Before Curt Casali was hammering his first home run as a Giant, before he was huffing and puffing his way to an accidental triple, before he finished a double short of the cycle Thursday and 6-for-9 with an important walk in the Diamondbacks series, there was frustration and experimentation and plenty of discussions with other players who have had a fragment of their hamate bone removed.
The eighth-year major leaguer understands that any explanation he gives about how he feels at the plate can be interpreted as an excuse. He has in the past alluded to irritations he did not want to delve into. And yet, it is hard to feel right without much from your left hand.
“I’m just kind of finding ways of experimenting to use what I have right now, and hopefully it comes back,” the Giants’ backup catcher said earlier this week on the Oracle Park field. “Right now I’m just in straight compete mode and grind mode, and hopefully one of these days I can really drive one and get that feeling back.”
He got the feeling of driving one again and became the latest Giants offensive player to step up in a season of depth taking over, but it has not been an easy one for a player who came to the club, in large part, to follow hitting coach Donnie Ecker, who had coached him in Cincinnati.
Curt Casali’s first Giants home run was a long one 💪pic.twitter.com/LU1ceQIVcE
— KNBR (@KNBR) June 17, 2021
It did not start with the hamate fracture, at the base of the hand around the wrist, but rather with a debridement procedure that is intended to remove scar tissue. That led to the hamate discovery, which is not wholly uncommon for athletes who need to roll over their wrists and grip bats tightly.
Of course, it affects everyone differently — maybe he uses his bottom hand more than others — and catching upper-90s heat regularly with that left hand probably does not help things.
“What was so simple before in terms of manipulating the barrel and just basic hand-eye stuff is just more challenging than it’s ever been,” Casali said Wednesday, a day after his two-out, eighth-inning walk allowed Mike Yastrzemski to crush a grand slam. “I’ve had a lot of surgeries. This one has been the funniest. This is kind of the hardest to overcome, but it’s not keeping me off the field.”
It is keeping him from having a proper grip, which has led to him using Mike Yastrzemski’s bat with plenty of wrapping around the knob.
“It’s like only having half of your bottom hand,” Casali said.
As Casali entered the series with Arizona batting .100, fan calls picked up for Joey Bart or Chadwick Tromp, who showed well in a couple games when Casali was down. Casali is noted for his defensive acumen — remember the five-game shutout streak? — and has a history of being a perfectly fine offensive catcher. The shortened 2020 campaign had been his best in posting an .866 OPS. His bat, which hit six home runs in 93 plate appearance, forced the Reds to shoehorn him into the lineup at first base and DH at times, too. When he was a catcher, his OPS was .915, which was fifth best among catchers with at least 70 plate appearances.
The Giants signed him knowing about the surgery and also knowing about the attention to detail and the clubhouse reputation that he brings; he and Yastrzemski, Vanderbilt buddies, are so close they lived together during the downtime between spring trainings 1.0 and 2.0 last year.
The pitchers seem to appreciate him, too. When Casali is in the squat, the Giants’ ERA is 2.88, which is sixth best in baseball among catchers with at least 100 plate appearances.
His batting average spiked 65 points in three games against Arizona, and it’s the type of results and feeling he has sought for two and a half months. The high-fives with Yastrzemski after the grand slam, the cheers from a crowd that wanted a double to complete his cycle are feelings he will chase, even if the feeling in his wrist is still a work in progress.
He thinks it’s trending the right way, which is plain enough after his explosion Thursday.
“For the time being, I’m going to just do whatever I can to contribute at the plate and impact the team in a positive way,” Casali said.