SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants will take another step toward returning to normalcy on Thursday, when the club is scheduled to reach the 85% vaccine threshold required for loosened COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
The loosened restrictions include players and staff on the Major League club as well as Triple-A Sacramento. Players will be permitted to be in the dugout and on the field unmasked, and will no longer need to wear the tracking devices players have been wearing all season that assist in contact tracing. The team still must wear masks in the clubhouse, training room and weight room, as well as on the team plane and bus -- any time they’re indoors -- but restrictions have been loosened in regard to indoor dining and how often players are tested, among other things.
Clubs were informed just before Opening Day that MLB and the MLBPA had agreed to relax certain health and safety protocols contained in the 2021 Operations Manual for fully vaccinated Tier 1 Individuals and for clubs where 85% of their Tier 1 Individuals are fully vaccinated. This applies to all players and staff who are considered Tier 1, including those at the alternate site. As part of that memo, players and staff were again strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines when eligible.
The Giants have been diligent about adhering to the health and safety protocols since they were implemented last year. Left-handed reliever Jarlín García said he’s looking forward to reaching the 85% benchmark because it will create a team environment that will be more conducive to communication and the exchange of ideas among teammates.
“I view it as a big positive because it’ll allow the team to have a better vibe,” Garcia said in Spanish. “We’re going to be able to communicate better and be closer so we can share ideas and knowledge and help each other out.”
Wisler, García bounce back
One of the few bright spots of the Giants’ 11-1 blowout loss to the Padres on Sunday was that two relievers -- Matt Wisler and García -- delivered encouraging performances that suggested that they could be close to getting back on track after their rough starts to the regular season.
Wisler and García each fired two scoreless innings after starter Johnny Cueto lasted only three frames in his first start since returning from the injured list.
“Super promising innings for both of them,” manager Gabe Kapler said afterward. “Wisler’s slider was good, his command was good. Jarlín’s stuff was back. We saw the velo, we saw the zip on the fastball. That was kind of a silver lining, a peripheral benefit from a rough game.”
Wisler, who joined the Giants on a one-year, $1.15 million deal in December, has logged a 6.75 ERA over his first 15 appearances with his new club, but he said he worked with pitching coach Andrew Bailey to make some mechanical changes to improve the break of his slider, which is his most important pitch. The 28-year-old right-hander threw his slider 83.4% of the time in 2020, when he logged a 1.07 ERA over 18 appearances for the Twins, but he had been getting roughed up after hanging too many breaking balls this season.
“I felt a lot better with it yesterday,” Wisler said. “Hopefully I can take that outing yesterday and build from it and get that consistency back and the break that I want.”
García posted a 0.49 ERA over 19 appearances with the Giants last year, but he recorded an 8.53 ERA over his first five outings in 2021 and then landed on the IL with a left groin strain. García said he used his time on the shelf to get healthier, make some mechanical tweaks and also recoup his confidence. Sunday marked his first outing since returning from the IL, and the 28-year-old lefty showed improved fastball velocity -- topping out at 95 mph -- now that his legs are back at full strength.
“During that process, I tried to find myself again, regain my confidence, find out who I really am and the potential that I have,” García said in Spanish. “I think that’s a sign that the Jarlín García from last year is back to help the team win.”
Wisler and García’s turnarounds would be a major boon for the Giants’ bullpen, which entered Monday with a 4.36 ERA and has already endured a few ugly collapses this year. Kapler has struggled to find trusted relievers outside of Tyler Rogers and closer Jake McGee -- who is also in the process of navigating through a rough patch -- so if Wisler and García can build off their outings on Sunday, they could be called upon to take on high-leverage innings for the Giants in the near future.