Nine days after getting shut down with left knee inflammation, Brandon Crawford dug in at his customary shortstop post.
Crawford, 36, made his first Cactus League action in over a week in Scottsdale on Wednesday. The veteran went 1-for-1 with a walk in his four scheduled innings during a 4-0 Giants victory over Texas.
Crawford’s knee flared up last year when he awkwardly slid into home on June 21. He was never the same, hitting the injured list on two separate occasions and batting .235 after the injury. The shortstop recorded just 11 extra base hits in 219 plate appearances in that post-slide stretch.
Giants manager Gabe Kapler told reporters that this knee flare-up was similar to what Crawford dealt with last year. Crawford reportedly received a cortisone shot to relieve pain.
Crawford’s left knee is key for both his range in the field and his ability to generate power with his load leg. Advanced stats paint his 2022 season as one of his least effective in the field, and his .652 OPS was more than 200 points below his resurgent 2021 campaign.
Against the Rangers, the most action Crawford saw in the field was in the fourth inning. He tracked back for a shallow bloop in center field, but was unable to make a ranging play over his shoulder. A play later, he and Brett Wisely turned a routine double play, with Crawford making a smooth transfer.
The shortstop’s hit came in the first inning when he pulled a single into right field off Jon Gray. Crawford didn’t score, but starter Ross Stripling kept Texas scoreless for 4.2 innings to preserve San Francisco’s three-run lead.
Stripling, he of the highest release point in MLB, relied on his changeup to rack up four strikeouts in his start. He, Scott Alexander, Jakob Junis and Taylor Rogers — who struck out the side in the ninth — allowed 10 combined hits, but prevented damage.
The Giants’ runs came on an errants Gray pickoff attempt to third and an RBI infield single by Joey Bart. Bart also threw out a runner in the third inning, showing off the arm that has looked electric during the spring.
But Crawford’s health — or lack thereof — is more relevant than anything that can happen in a Cactus League game. Behind Crawford, the Giants are thin on the depth chart. If he’s unavailable, Thairo Estrada would likely shift to shortstop, with either David Villar or Wilmer Flores sliding to second.
The Giants could potentially treat Crawford with caution like they did in Buster Posey’s final year, resting him once per series. If his knee issues are as chronic as they appear, precautionary measures would be necessary to get the most production out of the oldest regular active shortstop in baseball.
Wednesday’s return was Crawford’s eighth spring game; the Giants have six more to go before Opening Day in Yankee Stadium. Crawford isn’t a player who typically needs a ton of Cactus League reps, so as long as he stays healthy for the next week, he should be ready for the start of the year.
How available, and effective, he can be beyond that could decide the Giants’ 2023 season.
- Since Wednesday was a split-squad game, Rangers manager Bruce Bochy didn’t manage against his former organization. Bochy’s homecoming is set for August 11 in Oracle Park, when the Rangers come to Third and King for a three-game series.
- Bryce Johnson stole his 12th bag, which leads MLB in the spring. The center fielder also scored and drove in a run with a sixth-inning double. He has made a strong case to break camp with the big-league team, particularly with Austin Slater reportedly unavailable for Opening Day.
- Blake Sabol, who leads all qualified hitters in spring training OPS, went 2-for-3 with a walk. He tried to lay down a bunt — a Kapler soft spot — and also drove two line drive singles. Michael Conforto, the other scorching hot Giant, roped a double off the right field wall.