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Where’s Wilmer? Gabe Kapler explains veteran’s downtick in playing time



© Darren Yamashita | 2023 May 7

Veteran infielder Wilmer Flores is starting and hitting fourth for the Giants on Saturday night against the Orioles.

A place in San Francisco’s starting lineup has become rare for Flores, though. The veteran has started just two of the Giants’ last 11 games. He hasn’t played at all in four of those.

That’s unusual for a player the team is comfortable slotting into the cleanup spot.

Before Saturday’s game, Flores and manager Gabe Kapler had a chat about his evolving role.

“Acknowledging how challenging it is to be in his shoes right now,” Kapler said of the nature of their chat. “He’s been getting at-bats against some of the toughest relievers in the game. When you’re not playing regularly and your swing’s not exactly where you want it to be, I can speak from personal experience: that is as challenging as any job in the sport. So I just wanted Wilmer to know that I know what he’s going through, to some degree, and wanted him to know that I acknowledge that I haven’t put him in the best spots to have success.”

Flores, the 2022 Willie Mac Award winner, is hitting .233 with a .704 OPS on the season. He hit four home runs in the first 22 games of the season but has cooled off since. Part of that could be the challenge of staying on-time while not facing live pitching everyday.

Kapler said the Giants would ideally have him playing at least several times per week. Why haven’t they been able to find a role for him?

“Probably the thing that has been most influential in our inability to get Flo the types of regular reps that he deserves is the emergence of Casey (Schmitt) — and his ability to play all over the place,” Kapler said. “And our need to get (Brett) Wisely at-bats. We need to see him play. He’s an important piece of our future. So getting him reps has become important.”

Flores is regarded a consummate teammate and professional, so it may be less risky to toy with his playing time than another player. He’s also under contract, so he may feel more secure than younger players with more to prove. (The 31-year-old infielder is in the first year of a two-year contract extension in which he has a player option for the 2025 season).

The Giants brought Flores off the bench in the eighth inning of Friday night’s series opening loss against Baltimore. He drew a walk against Yennier Cano, who had only issued one walk on the season prior.

The players who have been taking Flores’ playing time, Schmitt and Wisely, are both seven years younger than the veteran. The situation represents a snapshot into the Giants’ ongoing balancing act of developing their young players and trying to win games.

Schmitt has looked like SF’s shortstop of the future and the team is internally optimistic that Wisely can become an everyday player despite his .190 batting average.

Kapler noted Wisely’s start-stop ability in the field as one tool that stands out. Wisely, notably, has options and just 17 Triple-A games. That makes him a strong candidate to be sent down when Joc Pederson (hand) and Thairo Estrada (wrist) return.

But that won’t make Flores’ path to more consistent playing time any easier. At this point in his career, Flores is most reliably a designated hitter or first baseman. Pederson takes some of those opportunities, and Estrada returning to the middle infield will soak up everyday at-bats, too.

“I don’t think his performance to date this season is really indicative of what he’s capable of,” Kapler said. “Maybe earlier in the season, when he was raking, that’s more of what we’ve come to expect of Wilmer. There are going to be ups and downs, and there are going to be even more ups and downs when you’re not getting regular playing time. It’s been a tough spot for him, and I respect the professional that he is. He hasn’t complained about it one time. We haven’t even talked about it until I asked him to come in and shared with him how much I respect how he’s approached this challenging situation.”

  • Pederson, who has been sidelined by a hand bruise since May 12, is making his first rehab assignment in San Jose on Saturday night. He’ll get to wear the SJ Giants’ gimmick “Churro” jerseys.

    Kapler said it’s possible Pederson needs only one or two rehab assignments. It’s a short drive up the 101 to get to Oracle Park.

  • A pair of former Orioles, Alex Cobb and Mike Yastrzemski, are both starting against their former team on Saturday night. Cobb is bringing his 3.05 ERA to the mound; Yastrzemski is playing center field and hitting third.

  • All four of the Giants’ position player rookies — Schmitt, Wisely, Patrick Bailey and Blake Sabol — are in the starting lineup for the second straight game. Friday night, center field prospect Luis Matos recorded his ninth multi-hit game in 15 career Triple-A contests, making a strong push to join them.