Mike Yastrzemski dug himself a hole immediately.
Leading off for Team Black on Thursday, the lefty watched a fastball catch the outside corner and then swung through another. Southpaw Drew Smyly tried to tempt him with breaking balls to finish him off, but Yastrzemski wouldn’t bite. He laid off four straight, took his base and sent yet another message to the Giants that he’s a weapon regardless of the pitcher on the mound.
Yastrzemski was picked off, but he beat the throw to second. His next at-bat was even better, launching a double to left-center off Smyly, before lefty Caleb Baragar struck out the 29-year-old second-year player.
The Giants’ most platoon-proof player would be Evan Longoria, but a moderate right oblique strain could change that with six days before the season opener. Brandon Crawford is expected to be in the lineup most days, but apart from that core, Yastrzemski has positioned himself as one of the closest things the team has to an everyday player.
“[Facing lefties is] one of those things where it’s just a high focus and awareness because people put so much pressure on it,” Yastrzemski said Thursday on a Zoom call.
He will be in the lineup when the Giants face Clayton Kershaw on Opening Day, having found ways to ensure Gabe Kapler feels comfortable penciling him against anyone and anywhere. While mostly a right fielder, Yastrzemski can shift over and play center, which is important for a team that was shallow in the position even before Billy Hamilton missed two weeks of camp.
“It’s just an honor to be wearing the Giants uniform as frequently as possible,” Yastrzemski said. “Any way that I can get in the lineup and be on the field is just something that I’m looking forward to doing.”
Nearly as surprising as his breakout last season was how he broke out: by hitting lefties better than righties. In 89 plate appearances against lefties, he slashed .329/.382/.561, compared with a .256/.321/.505 line against righties. Facing Clayton Kershaw in the Cactus League, Yastrzemski smartly laid down a bunt that got him on first. He’s a smart player, and one who will be facing Kershaw again next week.
It’s possible he’s faced “Kershaw” since that Arizona matchup, though. After camp 1.0 broke, Yastrzemski roomed with Cincinnati’s Curt Casali, a former Vanderbilt buddy, so the two had each other to throw to and stay in shape with. Yastrzemski also had access to Win VR, a virtual reality setup that lets you get swings off against approximated pitchers, which he said has helped his timing.
“Just going through any guy who could potentially be on any roster that we were going to face,” Yastrzemski said. “So I was just trying to get myself prepared in any way I could.”
Potentially without Longoria, Yastrzemski finds himself as a rare lineup cog. Without Buster Posey, Yastrzemski finds himself as an unlikely potential leader, a guy who has played all of 107 games in the big leagues. He has done some of everything, though — been stuck in the minors, seen every level (multiple times), been frustrated, broken through, burst out, and now will try to prove he wasn’t a fluke.
Perhaps while grooming the next Mike Yastrzemski.
“I’m just trying to help any guy who is in a situation that I’ve been in before, in terms of being on either the outside looking in, or being new to a team, or being new to any sort of situation,” he said. “… But obviously, we have a lot of guys in this clubhouse that have a lot of time and are very good players and leaders, so I think we have a good mesh.”