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Giants’ road trip challenges them in more ways than the obvious



Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

There is a formula that has re-emerged at Oracle Park. Giants pitchers’ ERA at home is 2.60, the third best in baseball. Their starters’ ERA in San Francisco is 2.28, the second best in baseball. They have played excellent defense everywhere, with 11 errors in 36 games, the least in all of MLB. Their hitting has not been overwhelming, but it has been consistent enough that the club’s home record is 14-4, which is No. 1 in baseball.

“I think when we had those good teams back in the day, that’s exactly what we were doing,” said Brandon Belt, a part of the 2012 and 2014 World Series teams. “We had good pitching, good defense and got hits when we needed to.”

Gabe Kapler wasn’t around for those teams, but he has noticed this team is comfortable at home, with a good knowledge of the angles and the way the ball plays, and “sometimes comfort can lead to confidence.”

The challenge, then, as the Giants embark upon this eight-game road trip that begins Thursday in Pittsburgh before swinging to Cincinnati, is to find a level of comfort that they have not tapped into away from home.

The Giants are 8-10 away from the China Basin, but the results of play has been less concerning than the injuries suffered during and after it.

Their first trip to the East Coast this year — their first since 2019, after the shortened 2020 season limited their opponents — saw Donovan Solano incur a calf strain in Miami he has not yet returned from, and Belt miss some time with a quad that tightened in Philadelphia. After the cross-country trip back to San Francisco, Evan Longoria experienced hamstring tightness, and soon after Mike Yastrzemski was placed on the injured list with an oblique strain.

Nagging injuries are plaguing the league a year after bodies were treated differently, and the Giants — who have the oldest starting position players in MLB — have acknowledged they need to be careful. Case in point: Belt was scratched before Thursday’s game with “some mild left side tightness,” the Giants said, the same ailment that prompted his exit from Tuesday’s late innings.

Kapler talked with Buster Posey, who also has had a hamstring bark on him, about plotting out the workload during a stretch of 14 road games in the Giants’ next 17. The manager said he may do that with some veterans, too, in trying to find the ideal amount of reps to keep everyone healthy.

Reps come in games, but also in warming up. There will be some full days off in this stretch.

“We’re going to be very aggressive about shortening or limiting the volume of reps outside of what we’re doing in-game,” Kapler said from PNC Park, where the Giants were set to start a four-game series with the Pirates. “… Outfielders are out there getting their arms loose between games; infielders are getting kind of slow-roller work; guys are swinging in the cage to prepare for their pinch-hit at-bats. All of those are reps, and they’re all happening after 6:45 or 7, depending on the game time. So everything that happens up until that point is volume that we need to monitor and be thinking carefully about.”

Yastrzemski, who returned from the IL last week, said it’s important on this trip that the players make sure nothing is rushed. That might mean “taking a little extra time to make sure that everything’s loose,” he said.

There are tangential and more-pressing reasons for the Giants to be mindful of resting their position players, the most immediate being how thin their infield is. With Brandon Crawford sitting Thursday while experiencing side effects from the coronavirus vaccine, Mauricio Dubon is starting at shortstop and has no backup. Dubon, meanwhile, probably is the backup at second should something happen to Wilmer Flores, and one of those two would have to be the backup for third base should something happen to Longoria.

Injuries are a challenge that the 22-14 Giants are trying to weather. They look comfortable and confident at home, which has resulted in an enviable record and better health than they’ve experienced while calling hotels home.

The Pirates and Reds are more tangible opponents, but after another long plane ride, they hope they can win the battle against nagging injuries, too.