With one out in the top of the ninth inning, Arizona’s Jake McCarthy tried to steal second in a 5-5 game.
Buster Posey, like he’d done 255 times in his career, instantly popped up out of his crouch and delivered a perfect strike to second. McCarthy was out by a mile, and AZ’s rally lost all momentum.
The on-point throw was vintage Posey. It inspired a string of “ain’t havin’ it” tweets from fans and beat reporters alike.
But Posey wouldn’t have been behind the plate to gun down McCarthy if the game was played earlier in the season. The Giants put the 34-year-old catcher on a strict two games on, one game off load management regimen akin to that of NBA stars.
“I don’t think there’s any question that it’s helped,” Posey said after that Diamondbacks game, a 6-5 win.
Posey, 34, has had major hip surgery and a gruesome ankle injury. Keeping the catcher’s body fresh has been a major factor in Posey’s All-Star season for the historically excellent Giants (106-54). He hasn’t spent any time on the injured list in 2021, yet has sat out 49 games — 30.6% of the season before Saturday.
The coaching staff’s plan for Posey is consistent with their cautious handling of the rest of the team, with the balance of posting versus pushing through injuries generally tilted in the favor of long-term health and peak performance.
After starting four straight games, something he hasn’t done all season, Posey isn’t in the starting lineup Saturday against the Padres. It’s likely the last time he’ll rest in 2021, with the playoffs around the corner.
“At this time of the year, with where we’re at, it’s time to push a little more,” the three-time World Series champion said.
What does Posey actually accomplish during these “rest” days like Saturday? He doesn’t necessarily stick to a specific recovery routine. Sometimes he’ll even work out, athletic trainer Dave Groeschner said.
San Francisco’s training staff has tended to Posey for so many years — 14 to be exact — so they can personalize his treatment.
Usually on days off, Posey will get a soft-tissue massage for an hour to 90 minutes, Groeschner said. As a catcher, Posey’s lower body is the area that needs the most attention — that’s what squatting several hundred times a game will do to you.
The hip is another area of focus, Groeschner said, especially because tightness there can cause back issues. Recovery “modalities” to address that and other extremities include both the hot and ice tub, which Groeschner said Posey uses regularly.
Posey’s rest-day activity, or lack thereof, has depended on the nature of the previous two games. Travel, longer games, volume of pitching changes and the general bumps and bruises of a game can dictate his treatment.
“Just knowing him and talking to him, the schedule has definitely been beneficial to help his body through the season,” Groeschner said.
The grind of a 162-game season is an unfathomable concept for those who have never done it. Catching an entire season is a whole different ballgame. Posey’s doing it as the third-oldest active backstop with at least 400 plate appearances.
In the top of the first inning at Petco Park on Sept. 25, Posey took a foul tip off a 94mph fastball to the facemask. He froze for a moment, then removed his mask while staying in a crouch. The home plate umpire asked him if he was okay. After a moment, Posey reset for the next pitch.
Groeschner said Posey’s toughness is underrated. Foul tips like that, either to the face, shoulders or shins happen several times every game. Almost all go unnoticed.
And it’s not just taking fastballs to the body. Bullpen games — which the Giants had plenty of in September — are especially taxing both physically and mentally. Posey has to crouch up and down for each pitcher’s warmup sessions and games take longer. He has to prepare more game plans to be able to call pitch sequences for each arm.
Plus, with such a tight division race, every game has had a playoff-level intensity for weeks. That makes physical health even more vital — mental strain can be even worse when you’re in pain, Groeschner said.
The seven-time All-Star is a very “schedule-oriented” person, Groeschner said, so knowing throughout the year when his rest days are coming has been beneficial to his psyche. The rhythm of his off-days will also be similar in the playoffs, when there’s more built in time between games and series, Groeschner said.
In the last couple weeks of the season, Posey’s load management has become less rigid. Now after games, he and manager Gabe Kapler will talk about how he’s feeling and go from there. Kapler said at this point, they’re going to try to get Posey behind the plate as much as possible.
“You get down to the 160th game, there’s only so much we can do until the offseason comes,” Groeschner said.
The trainer stresses that Posey’s winter workouts are also pivotal for getting him through a season. Three to four days a week, the catcher comes into Oracle Park as early as 7am to train with SF’s strength coaches on his lower half, shoulder flexibility and overall mobility.
The product of his offseason and in-season preparation is undeniable. A year removed from taking the 2020 season off, Posey has recorded his highest batting average (.303) since 2017. Among catchers with the same minimum of 400 plate appearances, Posey’s WAR is the highest (4.8).
On Sept. 14 against the Padres after two consecutive days off, Posey went 3-for-5 with a homer and two runs. Hitting .333 with a .853 OPS in the last two weeks, the rest has helped him feel spry for the stretch run of the season.
“Absolute workhorse,” starter Anthony DeSclafani said. “He’s one of the best catchers for a reason, and why he’s been so successful for a reason. He knows how to prepare, knows how to win. It’s been a privilege and it’s been awesome getting to watch him perform everyday and for me to throw to him.”