Casali playing catch-up after hamate surgery

February 21st, 2021

Learning a new pitching staff is a tall enough task for any catcher who joins a new team, but Giants backstop will have the added challenge of being limited defensively for the early part of camp.

Casali underwent surgery to remove the hamate bone in his left hand in December and has not yet caught bullpen sessions this spring.

The 32-year-old veteran said he’s pleased with his progress and doesn’t expect the injury to affect his availability for Opening Day. Casali, who is expected to serve as ’s backup after signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal last month, has been taking swings in the batting cage and playing catch without pain.

“I’ve been playing catch-up,” Casali said Saturday. “I think that the training staff is going to, wisely, just ease me into it. Fortunately, Spring Training is long enough as it is. There’s not a real rush to get back into games. I feel like I have plenty of time to get myself up to playing speed and be ready for Opening Day.”

Casali said he injured his hand while playing for the Reds in the National League Wild Card Series against the Braves last October. He tried to rehab the injury over the offseason, though he ultimately chose to undergo surgery after negotiations began to pick up with the Giants. Casali’s contract didn’t become official until January, but he said he had a verbal agreement in place with San Francisco in December, which was contingent on his surgery going off “without a hitch.”

Casali’s deal includes a $500,000 bonus if he makes the Giants’ Opening Day roster this year, which he said was inserted to help assuage the club’s health concerns.

While Casali is behind the other catchers in camp, the good news for him is that he won’t be forced to start completely from scratch when it comes to learning the Giants’ pitching staff. San Francisco has amassed a collection of former Reds hurlers that Casali has worked with in the past, including , , , and .

“I know a few of the guys on the staff, which is actually a huge help,” Casali said.

As for the others, Casali said he’s been leaning on technology to help familiarize himself with each pitcher’s offerings. , for example, has been wearing a catcher cam to capture footage from bullpen sessions, allowing Casali to study video after each workout.

“Fortunately, this organization has a lot of technology at its disposal,” Casali said. “I can recap each video, the bullpens of each guy per day, which is pretty fascinating. … But it still doesn't replace the need to get back there and create relationships with them. So I'll be playing catch-up, for sure.”

Wisler slides into Giants’ bullpen mix
Wisler didn’t expect to hit the free-agent market this winter after logging a 1.07 ERA with 35 strikeouts over 25 1/3 innings for the Twins in 2020, but the 28-year-old right-hander became available after being non-tendered in December. He quickly caught on with the Giants, who signed him to a one-year, $1.15 million deal less than a week later.

Wisler is intriguing because of his heavy reliance on his slider, which he threw 83.4% of the time last year. The approach helped Wisler finish among the top 10% of qualified pitchers in both hard-hit rate allowed and whiff-per-swing rate, according to Statcast.

Despite the dominance he enjoyed last year, Wisler said he’d like to back off his breaking ball a bit in 2021 and perhaps keep his usage in the 70% range to ensure that the pitch stays effective.

“I’d rather see a little bit less than that to be a little bit more of a one-and-a-half-, two-pitch pitcher instead of just being a totally one-pitch pitcher,” Wisler said Saturday. “Just to give myself a little more room for error with the slider.”

As one of the more experienced arms in the bullpen, Wisler likely will be called upon in high-leverage spots this season, though he’s a versatile reliever who opened four games and logged one save for the Twins in 2020.

Worth noting
• In an interview with radio station KNBR on Saturday morning, Giants executive vice president of business operations Mario Alioto revealed that the club likely will delay ’s jersey number retirement ceremony until the 2022 season.

"We talked to Will the other day, and most likely, we're probably going to wait until 2022,” Alioto said. “It's probably the best time to retire his number, actually, in 2022. With all of the uncertainty right now with respect to fans, when he gets honored we want to make sure we have an absolutely full house with 100 percent capacity."

• Alioto also told KNBR that the Giants will wear last names on the back of their home jerseys this year for the first time since the team moved to Oracle Park in 2000.

“We will have names on the back of the jerseys,” Alioto said. “It’s been something we’ve been debating for years.”

Alioto said the decision was driven by the Giants’ desire to make it easier for fans to recognize and connect with players on the field.