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How Tyler Austin deals with his strange Giants reality: cleanup or benched

Tyler Austin. © Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

He admitted it makes for a strange dynamic. Perhaps the Giants’ most powerful bat is being slotted as their cleanup hitter, or he’s not in the lineup at all.

It speaks to Tyler Austin’s dominance of lefties, clumsiness against righties and the team’s overall offensive struggles.

For Austin, the situation is less than ideal.

“I think so,” Austin told KNBR on Saturday when asked if the stop-and-go makes his job more difficult. “Going out and facing guys like [Clayton] Kershaw and these guys, it’s tough not getting everyday at-bats and seeing the live pitching. But that’s been my role. Gotta stick to what I know.”

The right-handed hitter was No. 4 in the order Saturday for a second straight game against a lefty, Rich Hill following Kershaw in the series. He had been No. 3 in the lineup Wednesday against Mets southpaw Jason Vargas. Prior to that, he hadn’t gotten a start since May 24.

His rust has shown through. Austin is 2-for-14 without an extra-base hit in his last eight games played, hits coming as infrequently as his playing time. Austin said his mindset has not shifted, nor has his preparation.

“I try to just take it, prepare myself as if I were playing every day,” said the 27-year-old, who came over from Minnesota in an early April trade. “I don’t change my routine from whether I’m playing or not playing. Go out and just try to be myself every time I step on the field.”

His self has been the Giants’ best outfield bat, his .825 OPS easily trumping Kevin Pillar’s (.625), Steven Duggar’s (.624) and Mike Yastrzemski’s (.678). Austin has been deadly against lefties, slashing .298/.389/.596 this season with four of his five home runs against southpaws, even with his recent struggles. Fangraphs has him ranked as baseball’s 23rd best hitter against lefties this year, four spots behind Kris Bryant and three spots ahead of Freddie Freeman. Those numbers tumble against right-handers, though, his batting average sitting at .148.

Bruce Bochy was excited to pencil in Austin while he could. After Hill, the Giants are set to face at least three straight righty starters. And while Austin plays because of his bat, his left-field glove — for a native first baseman, pushed off the position by Brandon Belt — has impressed the manager.

“I really think this guy has a chance of being pretty good out there,” Bochy said Friday. “He can run, he’s a good athlete. … Think he’s going to give us some help against some of these lefties we’re going to face the rest of the year.”

So Austin tries to stay fresh, even when he’s dusted off and asked to face off against Kershaw (Austin was 0-for-3 Friday).

“He’s tough for people that play every day,” Austin said with a smile. “But just gotta go out there and compete and get the job done.”


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