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Giants soft launch new outfielders Conforto, Haniger in spring home opener



SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants’ two flashiest additions of the winter, Michael Conforto and Mitch Haniger, hit first and second in San Francisco’s Cactus League home opener. 

Giants fans who made the pilgrimage to the desert filled Scottsdale Stadium to see the two outfielders try to prove they’re more than consolation prizes after their favorite club struck out on the superstar class.

It’s just one game, and an exhibition one at that, but both of their introductions were nondescript. 

Conforto and Haniger, under contract for a combined $79.5 million, went 1-for-5 with three strikeouts and four left on base. Haniger also failed to make a play on a catchable fly ball in left field that resulted in a run. 

“It looked like it’s early in spring, you know?” manager Gabe Kapler said postgame. “Get their feet underneath them, take some good swings. It’s fine.”

After they were removed from the game, a 7-6 Giants walk-off win, neither Conforto nor Haniger seemed overly concerned. 

“Felt good to be back,” Conforto, who served as designated hitter, said. “I definitely had some nerves, had some butterflies. After the first at-bat, most of them went away. But it felt like a micro debut again — something like that. I’m sure I’ll get that feeling again Opening Day, but it’s good to be back. Just felt great to be back out there.”

“Good to get in the game, get the first one out of the way,” Haniger said. “Sean (Manaea) looked really good. It was fun to get out there.”

Conforto’s last game came on Oct. 3, 2021 with the Mets. Since then, he hurt his shoulder during the lockout and underwent surgery that knocked him out for all of 2022. 

“It’s huge,” Conforto told KNBR pregame of what it means to play again. “You’re definitely proud of being able to come back, being physically ready. I put a lot of work into rehabbing, just making sure that I can show more or less the same player that I was before.” 

In the three years before his shoulder injury, Conforto was one of the best hitting outfielders in baseball. An All-Star in 2017, he posted an .856 OPS from 2017 to 2019 and hit 88 home runs in that stretch. 

“You’re definitely proud of being able to come back, being physically ready,” Conforto told KNBR. “I put a lot of work into rehabbing, just making sure that I can show more or less the same player that I was before.”

He’s finished his throwing progression and is physically cleared to play the outfield. But he still needs to shake off rust in the field by re-learning how to get reads off the bat and working on baserunning — things players who spend time rehabbing don’t typically practice. Plans can change, but Conforto said he’s scheduled to DH for a couple of weeks. 

Conforto dribbled out in his first at-bat. Right after him, Haniger went down looking. Their next turns came with runners on the corners and no out. They each struck out. 

Haniger has also dealt with a slew of injuries, but he’s 100% healthy now. In addition to his two strikeouts, he looked a bit uncomfortable in his little action in left field. Primarily a right fielder, Haniger has generally graded out favorably with the glove. But he’s only logged 13 career games in left field — most recently in 2018 — and must adjust; everything is opposite in the other corner. 

In the first inning, Haniger broke late to a dying fly ball fading toward the foul line and made an awkward late dive at it. The ball dropped for a single and TJ Friedl ended up on third base. Haniger said he had the initial read right off the bat. 

“Had a good jump on it, I was just expecting for it to carry a little more with the wind blowing out,” Haniger said. “And it just kind of stalled and died. It was one of those tweeners where, looking back at it, I should’ve dove.”

When Conforto is healthy, he and Haniger are expected to man the corners, with Austin Slater and Mike Yastrzemski mainly platooning in center. Kapler said the club will use this spring to try Conforto and Haniger in each of the corners. 

Giants outfielders recorded -25 outs above average last year, tied with Philadelphia for the worst in MLB. In a year of miserable defense, the outfield was an especially sore spot. 

Conforto and Haniger should help, and at the very least provide stability. But Haniger’s misplay on Sunday looked a lot like 2022. 

“I’ve always been really comfortable in right,” Haniger said. “But I know I’ll be a good left fielder. Wherever they decide to play me.”

  • The Giants’ comeback from down 6-2 was ignited by Carter Williams’ two-run home run in the eighth inning. Ford Proctor and Patrick Bailey also had big hits leading up to Will Wilson’s walk-off single.

    None of the non-roster invitees are expected to break camp with the Giants.
  • Sean Manaea, in his first action as a Giant, allowed three hits in two innings — though one of them was due to Haniger’s misplay.

    Manaea averaged 91.2 mph on his fastball last year, but said he touched 96 mph on Sunday (there were no displayed radar numbers in Scottsdale Stadium). Manaea worked at Driveline in Arizona this winter and credited improved pliability with his velocity spike.

  • Camilo Doval picked up after Manaea, striking out three and allowing one run in his first inning under the pitch timer. Doval, one of the slower workers on the staff, wasn’t called for a pitch clock violation; he actually struck one hitter out when he didn’t get into the box quickly enough.

    He could’ve done a better job holding on Jake Fraley at first base and threw one wild pitch, but finished the inning cleanly.

    A source said the fireballer didn’t touch 100 mph on his fastball Sunday — not unusual for a pitcher in his first live action of the spring. Asked if he’s worried about maintaining his triple-digits heat in the pitch clock era, Doval demurred.

    “No, I don’t think so,” Doval said. “I think it’ll increase more.”

  • Thomas Szapucki walked three and allowed three earned runs in 0.1 innings. Out of options, the left-handed reliever is on the bubble of a crowded bullpen group. He was part of the Darin Ruf trade last season.

  • The Giants’ announced attendance was 6,688 for their Cactus League home opener. Scottsdale Stadium capacity? 12,000.

    After the lowest attendance total — excluding pandemic seasons — since moving into the new ballpark in 2022, that figure can’t be encouraging for the franchise. At least there will be $9 Bud Lights.