SAN FRANCISCO — Curt Casali went hitless Saturday night — one of his three strikeouts came while bunting foul with two strikes — but after the Giants’ thrilling 3-2 win over the Dodgers, manager Gabe Kapler described his performance as “heroic.”
That’s because Casali was battling a tight hamstring for all nine innings, leaving the 33-year-old catcher “compromised,” according to Kapler. It also explains while Casali squared to bunt with two strikes: it was a call from the bench to ensure their catcher who couldn’t swing a bat could guide their pitching staff through nine innings behind the plate.
“We needed his mind and catching ability behind the plate. It was a pretty heroic effort from start to finish for him,” Kapler said. “I think it took everything he had to just get through the game physically and do his job on defense, which he did. He put down the right fingers all day long.”
On Sunday morning, before he received a much-needed day off in the series finale, Casali joked that Kapler’s praise was merely to stroke his ego and that the injury he battled through Saturday night was part of catching in the big leagues.
“Every catcher can attest to this: there are very few days where you feel good,” said Casali, who first felt the hamstring tighten up while beating out an infield single Friday night. “Some days are worse than others. For me yesterday, it was a bit of a grind. I strategically did some things yesterday — bunting, not running hard — that I probably wouldn’t do.”
Casali’s presence behind the plate was made more important by two factors: the Giants used six pitchers as part of a bullpen game, expanding the range of knowledge required to manage the game; and their other option, Austin Wynns, had only worked with three pitchers since the Giants acquired him last week.
“I don’t know that it would’ve been fair to him with the bullpen game,” Casali said. “Of course Austin is more than capable, he’s a really good player. … It was something that Kap and I talked about, just figuring out a way to get through it. It was painful but fortunately it worked out.”
Casali is the latest on a growing list of Giants experiencing hamstring issues: Jakob Junis is expected to miss a chunk of time with a Grade 2 strain; Evan Longoria has been held out of the lineup with tightness the past two games; LaMonte Wade Jr.’s rehab assignment was delayed. Anthony DeSclafani (right ankle) and Alex Cobb (neck/back) remain on the injured list with other ailments, and Tommy La Stella (back) wasn’t anything besides a last-resort option off the bench Saturday night.
“Maybe you don’t need a hamstring to squad,” joked reliever Tyler Rogers.
Unfortunately, the opposite couldn’t be more true.
Casali’s coping mechanism: “Give a fake cry and go out there and do your job.”
Health issues behind the plate, however, present a different challenge for a team that has made its name on the next-man-up philosophy over the past two seasons.
First, the value of Casali: the Giants are 18-8 in games he’s caught this season versus 14-17 in all other games. Entering Sunday, Giants pitchers had a 3.18 ERA when throwing to Casali versus 4.88 with any other catcher.
In eight major-league seasons, Casali has never been an everyday catcher. That’s not the role he was brought here to to play, either. He was Buster Posey’s backup last season and was supposed to ease the transition to Joey Bart this year. But with Bart back in Triple-A, Casali has assumed a larger role while the organization has brought in light-hitting journeymen such as Wynns and Michael Papierski to backfill behind him.
“From a mentality standpoint, he’s more than capable to make that transition to be more of a two-games-on, one-game-off type of catcher,” Kapler said. “Curt has plenty of mental toughness to get through a game like yesterday and help us win a game, but we probably have to be aware over the course of time, we could potentially go too hard.”
Kapler said Wynns is “capable of catching several games a week,” while Bart works through his struggles at the plate in Triple-A. Casali also endorsed the new backstop, calling him “super intense … thoughtful … (and) asking interesting questions.”
Behind Bart, the Giants have among the most catching depth of any minor-league system, but almost all of it is at the lower levels. The closest prospect is 23-year-old Ricardo Genoves, who skipped Double-A and is 3.7 years younger than the average player at Triple-A. He’s hitting .233/.320/.349 in 129 at-bats with Sacramento, a step down from his .812 OPS between Single-A and High-A last season.
No hiccups in DeSclafani’s rehab start
DeSclafani (right ankle inflammation) threw three scoreless innings in his first rehab start Saturday with Triple-A Sacramento. He threw 41 pitches while allowing three hits and striking out three batters.
“I thought it was good. … I was throwing everything for strikes. Can’t complain about that,” DeSclafani said. His only critique: his velocity — topping out around 93-94 mph — was a tick lower than normal, but that’s to be expected for someone who hadn’t pitched in a game since the third week of April.
The hope is that DeSclafani will need to make only one more start at Sacramento before he is ready to rejoin the Giants rotation. He’s eligible to come off the 60-day IL on June 21, two days after Alex Cobb, who is also on schedule.
Their impending returns grew all the more important this weekend as Junis landed on the 15-day IL after an MRI revealed a Grade 2 strain.
“I want to get back, regardless of injuries,” DeSclafani said. “Obviously excited to rejoin the team. … If I’m throwing strikes and locating, it’ll just be up to them, so we’ll see where we’re at.”
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