SURPRISE, Ariz. — The longest commitment of the Farhan Zaidi era has made his name by chalking up the longest at-bats.
His first as a Giant wasn’t even officially an at-bat. Tommy La Stella, batting in the leadoff hole Monday, worked the count full against Texas righty Kyle Gibson. He fouled two off, waiting for the pitch he could hammer.
It didn’t come. On pitch eight, Gibson missed the strike zone, losing the battle, and La Stella took his base.
Hitting coach Donnie Ecker leaned over to Gabe Kapler.
“Kap,” the manager later relayed. “This is your love language.”
The Giants already have started receiving gifts from the tough out. It did not take long for the 32-year-old to demonstrate why Zaidi and Scott Harris believed he is worth $18.75 million for three seasons: He perfectly fits the mentality the club is all about.
“Early in the spring, I’m pretty focused on getting my sense of the strike zone down, so I’d definitely rather take a pitch in the zone that I maybe should have swung at then offering at a pitch out of the zone, at least at this point in camp,” La Stella said during the Giants’ 1-1, six-inning tie with the Rangers at Surprise Stadium — gotta love spring training. “I definitely want to … get my sights on the strike zone and make sure I have that down before I start moving into some more aggressive swings.”
His view of the zone looked just fine to start, and his leadoff appearance was followed by a hard ground single by Mike Yastrzemski. The duo is expected to be atop the lineup plenty this season, especially against righties. La Stella said his skillset lends itself to that spot in the lineup — which he is correct about, posting a .370 on-base percentage last year with more walks than strikeouts — but he’s comfortable anywhere.
“You can tell the sort of grind the two of them will give opposing pitchers,” Kapler said of La Stella and Yastrzemski, before including praise for lefty-killer Darin Ruf. “We got pretty excited knowing that Ruf was coming up and the quality of at-bats that he had last year as well coupled with his at-bats yesterday. We felt pretty good about that 1-2-3 combination. You can envision it looking something like that at some point during the year.”
Ruf grounded into a double play to kill the theoretical rally and he walked in his next plate appearance.
La Stella’s next at-bat, meanwhile, was a double to right-center off lefty Taylor Hearn, beginning to show he could be a weapon against all kinds of pitchers. He has always hit righties better, and the Giants have righty hitters at third (Evan Longoria) and second (Donovan Solano and Wilmer Flores), but his infield flexibility (he plays first, too) will help.
As will the hitters who should follow him in the lineup. Yastrzemski received MVP votes last year while predominantly hitting leadoff, and now he’ll have an even better-disciplined hitter in front of him. Alex Dickerson, Brandon Belt, the second basemen and Buster Posey should be beneficiaries, too.
The hitting mindsets of taking pitches and awaiting your pitch that Ecker, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind have installed and instilled worked last season, and La Stella is excited about what he saw and has seen.
“I got a taste of it last year playing against them,” the former A said over Zoom about the Giants’ hitters who will bat after him. “Being in camp with them, watching the way they work, watching their batting practice. And more than that, listening to how thoughtful they are with their approach and the way they go about game-planning and what they’re thinking at the plate — it’s very detailed. It’s very in depth, and I’m looking forward to learning from them.”