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Giants get awfully creative to get pitchers used to bats again

Brad Martens / SF Giants

SCOTTSDALE — How they fare in baseball is still to be decided, but the Giants may strive to be the best MLB club in golf. And maybe tennis. And maybe football.

There have been plenty of footballs thrown around Scottsdale Stadium, Brandon Crawford always nearby. The outfielders have often warmed up by catching tennis balls (sometimes whacked by coaches off rackets). And Thursday saw pitchers with bats in their hands that doubled as golf clubs.

Pitching groups made their way around the facilities wielding bats that only briefly were bats in their game of Fungo golf. One group started by the first-base line and tried to toss balls in the air and loft them toward left — the bats were drivers, basically — where there were buckets set up at varying distances.

From there, they worked on their putting games, using the bats to roll the balls toward either another ball or a ballbag. They putted some in the left-field foul territory before finishing their games behind the plate.

Competitors in various groups included Kevin Gausman, Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani, Tyler Beede, Logan Webb and Conner Menez. Gabe Kapler and some coaches played, as well.

“Just to get [pitchers] swinging the bats a little bit, just kind of ramping up very, very slowly the intensity and the feeling of having a bat in their hands and helping them find the sweet spot,” the manager said over Zoom on one of the lighter days of camp. “So that was a lot of fun. We kind of hit balls and then chased them around the diamond. It’s just a unique and fun way to practice something and kind of get ready to start swinging the bats.”

Important to remember is no pitchers swung in major league games last year, when the universal DH was adopted. A pitcher like Aaron Sanchez — who was not out there because the Giants are “building him up slowly,” Kapler said — has played his entire career in the American League.

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“I thought Gausman was pretty impressive,” Kapler said of his ace with a laugh. “Really nice touch and loft when necessary.”

Gausman has said he prefers the designated hitter, even if that means he has to face a designated hitter rather than a pitcher. Austin Slater, the Giants’ player representative for the union, said Thursday that “anything’s possible,” but did not sound optimistic that a deal would be reached that would give the NL the DH and would give MLB an expanded postseason. It would be a lot more money for the league in a trade, Austin said, that isn’t fair for the union.

“I just don’t see, unless the league comes off of that stance — expanded playoffs for DH — that that’ll happen,” the outfielder said. “… But last year during the summer camp they figured out the expanded playoffs, so I’m not going to rule it out.”

So it sounds as if pitchers will have to get used to the feeling of bats in their hands. But the cross-training action goes beyond golf. Crawford seems to always have a football in his hands, the former high school quarterback enjoying the warmup method. Assistant coach Alyssa Nakken and Triple-A Sacramento manager Dave Brundage often have swatted tennis balls toward the outfielders, who have caught the bouncier balls both with gloves and without.

There’s probably something to the springier balls providing a different feel and challenge for fielders. There’s also the fact that the professional baseball players have gotten a kick out of messing with other sports.

“We want to create some variety,” said Kapler, who said traditional camps can be mundane. “… By playing other sports, competing, you get out of your head and allow your natural athleticism to take over. When sports are fun, they also tend to lead to really good practice. We want to be doing it, we’re engaged.”


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