Duggar's 1st dinger of '21: 'It was rewarding'

May 14th, 2021

wasn’t in the Giants’ initial starting lineup on Thursday, but he found himself pressed into action after Brandon Belt was scratched with left side tightness shortly before game time.

Duggar ended up making the most of the opportunity, crushing his first home run in nearly two years to spark the Giants’ 3-1 series-opening win over the Pirates at PNC Park.

Duggar snapped a scoreless tie in the fifth inning by walloping a 2-2 sinker from Pittsburgh right-hander Wil Crowe out to right-center field to give the Giants a 1-0 lead. It was his first homer since June 11, 2019, against the Padres.

“It was rewarding,” Duggar said. “We work so hard. This organization, everybody in that clubhouse, staff included, are extremely detail-oriented, and we work extremely hard to bring home some wins. It’s definitely rewarding tonight to see the swing come along.” 

Duggar’s 411-foot shot kicked off a three-run rally for the Giants, who continued to threaten following back-to-back singles by Mike Tauchman and Buster Posey. Tauchman subsequently scored from third on a throwing error by Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings, and Mike Yastrzemski capped the productive inning by yanking a triple into the right-field corner to knock in Posey and extend the Giants’ lead to 3-0.

Right-hander Anthony DeSclafani used his fastball-slider combination to stymie the Pirates’ hitters, firing five innings of one-hit ball to lower his ERA to 2.14 through his first eight starts of the season. DeSclafani threw only 76 pitches, but he “wasn’t feeling 100 percent,” prompting manager Gabe Kapler to pinch-hit for him when the pitcher’s spot came up with a pair of runners on base and two outs in the top of the sixth.

The gamble didn’t exactly pay off, as Darin Ruf grounded out to end the inning, but relievers Caleb Baragar, Zack Littell, Camilo Doval and Tyler Rogers delivered four innings of one-run ball to help the Giants improve to 23-14, a half-game ahead of the Cardinals for the best record in the National League.

Duggar reached base three times on Thursday, adding a walk and a single to continue his encouraging stretch at the plate. He’s gone 8-for-25 (.320) with a double, a triple, a homer and four RBIs over his last nine games.  

“Duggar’s at-bats have been strong recently,” Kapler said. “He’s been very competitive in the batter’s box, and obviously hit the big home run for us to get us on the board. That really changed the momentum of the game. It was pretty dead prior to that point. It was a huge moment for us.”

Duggar, 27, debuted with the Giants in 2018, but he was slowed by shoulder injuries earlier in his career and has struggled to establish himself as a big league regular in San Francisco. Over the past few months, he’s watched the Giants’ outfield mix become even more crowded following the arrivals of Tauchman and LaMonte Wade Jr., a pair of left-handed hitters who are also capable of playing center field.

Duggar opened the 2021 campaign at the alternate training site and has already shuttled between Triple-A Sacramento and the Majors early this season, but he’s finally getting an extended look with the Giants now that Alex Dickerson is on the injured list with a right shoulder impingement. 

“We’re giving Duggar as much of an opportunity as we can to perform,” Kapler said Monday. “He has earned it with his work ethic. He’s earned it with his play over the course of the last week. We just want to see as much as we can of him.”  

Wade, who returned from the IL after missing a month with a left oblique strain, was originally slated to start in left field on Thursday, but he switched to first base to replace Belt, creating an opening for Duggar in center field. 

Duggar said he learned he’d be starting against Crowe during batting practice on Thursday, and credited the Giants’ coaching staff for helping him simplify his swing, which he believes has helped him feel more comfortable at the plate this year. 

“I feel stronger in my swing,” Duggar said. “I feel much more balanced. I feel quick-twitched and explosive, but very calm. I think that’s what I’ve been trying to achieve for a while, just being simplistic. Again, it’s a credit to our staff, [hitting coaches Justin Viele, Donnie Ecker and Dustin Lind] and ultimately [Kapler] for being able to stick with me and giving me an opportunity to be in the lineup today when I really wasn’t supposed to be.”

Duggar still hasn’t secured his spot on the roster, as the Giants are currently carrying seven players who are listed as outfielders and will likely need to option one once second baseman Donovan Solano completes his rehab assignment and is ready to rejoin the club. For now, Duggar is intent on making a case that he deserves to stay. 

“I just try to focus on what I can control, and that’s showing up to the field every day with a positive attitude and a drive to get better, and not focus too much on stuff that’s unrelated to myself,” Duggar said last week.