Wilmer, Yaz heat up: 'Just a matter of time'

May 18th, 2021

The Giants’ lineup hasn’t hit its stride through the first quarter of the season, but manager Gabe Kapler has maintained that he believes there’s a “better brand of offensive baseball” in his club.

The Giants flashed some of that offensive potential after , and homered to power a 6-3 win over the Reds in Monday night’s series opener at Great American Ball Park.

“It’s definitely huge,” Flores said. “It’s been a slow start for a lot of us, but we’re not keeping our heads down. We know what we’re capable of. We’ve just got to keep fighting.”

Flores went deep for the first time since May 4, launching a two-run home run to the opposite field to stake the Giants to a 3-0 lead in the fourth. Yastrzemski followed with his second home run in as many days, a 430-foot shot off his former Vanderbilt teammate and current Reds right-hander Sonny Gray in the fifth. Dubón added another solo homer the next inning to give San Francisco a five-run cushion.

The trio of home runs backed another strong start from right-hander , who held Cincinnati -- one of the National League’s top offenses -- to six hits over six shutout innings. The 24-year-old has delivered quality starts in four of his past five outings, lowering his ERA from 5.87 to 4.09 over that span.

Webb’s pitch count stood at 86 at the end of his outing, but he didn’t return for the seventh after experiencing some right shoulder soreness. Kapler said Webb would undergo treatment and be re-evaluated on Tuesday, but the Giants didn’t seem overly concerned with the issue.

The Giants’ brilliant starting rotation has propelled the club to the top of the NL West, but the staff’s dominance has also papered over some of the offensive inconsistency the team has faced early this year.

Flores, Yastrzemski and Dubón have been among the hitters who have started slowly, but if they start to heat up, the Giants will have an easier time scoring runs and creating a bigger margin of error for their pitching staff.

San Francisco entered Monday hitting .225, tied with the Yankees for 24th in the Majors, and is missing two key pieces of its lineup in Donovan Solano (right calf strain) and Tommy La Stella (left hamstring strain), who are both on the injured list. Brandon Belt also hasn’t started in two consecutive games due to left side tightness.

Flores was one of the Giants’ most reliable bats in 2020, when he hit .268 with an .830 OPS and a team-high 12 home runs over 55 games. The 29-year-old was expected to draw most of his playing time against lefties this year, but the injuries to Solano and La Stella thrust him into more of an everyday role, which magnified his rough start at the plate. Flores entered Monday batting .198 with a .584 OPS and two homers over 40 games, though Kapler expressed confidence that the Venezuelan slugger would find his stroke soon.

Flores responded by going 3-for-4 on Monday and jumpstarting the Giants’ string of three consecutive innings with a homer. After Brandon Crawford reached on an error by Reds shortstop Eugenio Suárez to start the fourth, Flores drove a 2-0 sinker from Gray out to right field for his third homer of the year.

“We knew that Flores was going to win a baseball game for us,” Kapler said. “We knew it was just a matter of time. I thought he had excellent at-bats today.”

With Flores' home run, the Giants have homered in 14 consecutive road games dating to April 19, matching the 1947 New York Giants for the longest single-season streak in franchise history.

“It’s a better feeling when you’re helping the team,” Flores said. “It’s just not a good feeling, obviously, when you’re not doing well. When you start helping the team, it’s even better.”

Yastrzemski has been a revelation since debuting with the Giants in 2019, placing eighth in NL MVP voting after batting .297 with a .968 OPS and 10 home runs in 54 games last year. But the 30-year-old slugger hit only .186 through his first 19 games and then missed nine games after suffering a left oblique strain last month.

Yastrzemski has begun to look more like himself in recent weeks, though. After collecting two hits on Monday, the Giants’ right fielder is batting .293 (12-for-41) with four homers and eight RBIs over his past 12 games, boosting his average to .225 with an .822 OPS this season.

“He’s been on time,” Kapler said. “He’s been in a good position to get his A-swing off for several games straight now. Obviously, he smoked that ball to right-center field. It was one of those no-doubters that when it comes off Yaz’s bat, it’s loud and it’s fast.”

Yastrzemski had the benefit of being intimately familiar with Gray, who he faced frequently during the shutdown period last year. Yastrzemski, Gray and fellow Vanderbilt alums Curt Casali and Tony Kemp were among the players who gathered in Nashville, Tenn., to train together to try to stay sharp for the eventual resumption of the regular season.

After signing with the Giants in January, Casali revealed that Yastrzemski “was taking Sonny Gray deep routinely” during those sessions. Not much changed on Monday, as Yastrzemski hammered a 3-2 fastball from Gray deep to right-center field for his sixth home run of the year.

“I don’t think it fazed him,” Yastrzemski said. “We always talked about it. He said if I hit a homer in a game off him, it had to be a solo shot. I don’t think he’s too mad about it. It’s something that eventually we’ll look back and kind of give each other grief about and have some fun with it as we get to the offseason and start golfing and stuff like that.”