The irony is clear with Curt Casali, who had a strong season in 2020 with the Reds and then followed his old hitting coach out West.
“I came here for a reason,” the Giants’ backup catcher said, “to work with Donnie Ecker.”
Maybe that work is beginning to pay off, the 32-year-old stroking a two-run single in the first inning for just his third hit of the season. And yet, his work with Buster Posey and with each Giants pitcher has been of far more consequence.
The biggest compliment to pay a catcher is that pitchers like throwing to him, and anyone the Giants pair him with puts up bagels. Casali has caught five straight shutouts from five different starting pitchers — Aaron Sanchez his latest — the first who can say that in Major League Baseball history.
Four catchers preceded him with five straight shutouts — 2015 Francisco Cervelli, 1995 Chris Hoiles, 1986 Alan Ashby and 1903 Ed Phelps (6 straight) — but all had overlap from their rotations.
“I pride myself on being defense and game calling and receiving first, and that kind of gets my hitting spat on a little bit,” Casali said after the Giants’ 3-0 win over the Marlins at Oracle Park. “But for it to finally come to fruition and get a little bit of recognition is pretty cool.
“I would say that catchers are kind of like offensive linemen of baseball.”
You know the type: the grinders who throw themselves in harm’s way for the glory of others. The Patriots fan was a high school quarterback but now has a special empathy for the big bruisers, whose sacrifices turn others into stars.
That meant Casali coaxed five scoreless frames from Sanchez, who did not throw a pitch 90 mph. It meant he fired up Gregory Santos in the 21-year-old’s debut, striking out two and not allowing the Marlins to reach. Matt Wisler has struggled in the past, but not throwing to Casali on Thursday. Tyler Rogers and Jake McGee closed the door on a night that the Giants pitching let up just two hits.
It was a mix of different pitchers, some throwing in the 70s, some 80s, some upper 90s, that baffled the Marlins and that Casali managed brilliantly.
“It was kind of a perfect recipe of mixing velos,” Casali said.
While he hails the staff, it naturally takes some shine away from the dirt behind the plate. It is rare that a catcher gets this type of public praise and even rarer that there are numbers that support it; so much of a catcher’s work is intangible; so much is based on scouting-report work that does not get reported upon.
Usually when a catcher who went 1-for-3 is summoned to the postgame media room, it’s because reporters want to ask about the pitchers he worked with. Casali’s work stood alone.
“Me and Buster have worked really, really hard behind the scenes, and it feels like finally it comes to the forefront,” Casali said over Zoom. “I’m pretty proud of it. Obviously I’m not the one throwing the pitches, but five in a row, it’s pretty sweet.
It sets up a curious decision for Gabe Kapler.
“Tomorrow’s a tough decision between the best catcher in Giants history and the guy who’s certain to catch a shutout,” the manager said. “I have my work cut out for me.”
Evan Longoria was removed to start the fifth inning with what Kapler said was a “mild” tight hamstring. The Giants will check on him again Friday but do not believe it’s serious.
That leaves injuries to each position around the diamond, although Brandon Crawford (ribcage tightness) was able to play in the late innings. Donovan Solano was placed on the IL on Thursday with a calf strain, and Kapler expressed hope that Brandon Belt (quad) would be able to play Friday.
For the second time in a week, the Giants witnessed a young fireballer debut smoothly. Last week it was Camilo Doval, who blanked the Marlins in Miami while striking out two. This time it was Gregory Santos, the 21-year-old call-up who came in throwing high-90s with a nasty slider that he used to strike out two Marlins in a scoreless frame.
“Both of them came in their first major league appearance with a lot on the line, a lot at stake, and they were able to deliver strikes,” Kapler said. “So I think obviously the credit goes to them and their coaches at the minor league level.
“But to some degree, I think you could give some credit to our catchers. They work really hard pregame to get these pitchers ready, and then we’re all looking to instill confidence in them. So it’s definitely a group effort, and everybody had a hand in the performance tonight.”