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Mike Yastrzemski’s demotion never came, and his ‘fear’ was gone

Chris Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants sat Mike Yastrzemski on Thursday, looking for a way to get the outfielder off his feet. He has played every inning of every game thus far because the Giants have needed him to play every inning of every game.

He leads the majors in both runs scored (12) and walks (13), as well as wins above replacement (1.1, per Fangraphs’ tabulations), signifying that through 13 games, the 29-year-old has a solid Most Valuable Player case.

The Giants want their MVP relaxed, comfortable, ready to play. That’s about how Yastrzemski felt after he was delivered first distressing and then heartening news a year prior.

Through his first 40 games in the majors after seven seasons in the minors, Yastrzemski had hit his way back to Triple-A. He was slashing .227/.279/.398 and amid an 0-for-8 series in Milwaukee when he had a “straight to the point” chat with Bruce Bochy.

His chance was finished. He stared at a hotel ceiling on July 14, Stephen Vogt checking on him.

And then Alex Dickerson’s back acted up. Yastrzemski had not actually left yet, and yet he was back.

“I just remember the feeling I had of being optioned and then being brought back within a day,” the 29-year-old said over a Zoom call this week. “So I was just kind of revived in a sense and having a second chance and feeling like I needed to go out and perform. It kind of gave me a little boost of life to get back out there and go back to the simple things, just enjoying the game there.”

People seeking inner clarity could look to Denver, where plenty has been legal for a while. Hitters looking for clarity can seek comfort at Coors Field, and none have looked more comfortable than Yastrzemski.

His mind reset, his demotion happening and then not happening, his future out of his grasp and OK with that, Yastrzemski began with a 4-for-6-with-three-RBIs day, and Bochy was not going to sit him after that start. Or his next. Or his next.

At the end of the four-game Coors series, the rookie had gone 9-for-20 (.450) with a pair of home runs, three doubles and seven RBIs in a series the Giants swept.

Perhaps the Giants should have kept unofficially demoting him.

“I think that really helped me unlock some fear of having that conversation of ever getting sent down,” Yastrzemski said. “And it just allowed me to play better because I was free.”

Perhaps he had been looking over his shoulder, waiting for his dream to end. After a career spent in Baltimore’s minor league system without a chance coming, he didn’t feel comfortable as a major leaguer until he was told he was no longer a major leaguer.

“Knowing that the conversation doesn’t sting as much as you think it’s going to makes you have less fear of having it,” Yastrzemski said.

If he felt fearless, he played like it, emerging as probably the Giants’ best player, the team designating Kevin Pillar for assignment after last season in part because it wanted to see more of Yastrzemski. He has responded by only wanting to improve, referencing conversations with Bochy last year and Farhan Zaidi about seeing more pitches, which has helped result in more walks, better plate appearances and harder contact. His strikeouts, too, are down, from a 26 percent rate last year to 23.7 percent thus far this season.

He returned to Coors Field this week a budding star and slammed another Mile High homer Monday, his third of the short year.

Bochy is no longer around, but Yastrzemski isn’t going anywhere.

“He explained to me what was going on and said, ‘This isn’t the last time we’re going to see you,'” Yastrzemski remembered of their conversation. “And he wasn’t wrong.”


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