La Stella, Yaz could be Giants' 1-2 punch

March 1st, 2021

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Mike Yastrzemski had an up-close view of ’s walk-off home run against the Giants at Angel Stadium last year. Yastrzemski was in right field when La Stella drove a curveball from erstwhile closer Trevor Gott over the yellow home run boundary line for a two-run shot that sealed the Giants’ third consecutive loss.

The defeat was extra painful for Yastrzemski, as the ball ended up deflecting off the right-field wall and smacking him in the face.

“He had mentioned that the ball had hit him in the face coming off the wall, which I didn’t know until he told me,” La Stella said during a Zoom call with reporters on Monday. “We both got a good laugh out of that.”

Yastrzemski is now happy to be on the same side as La Stella, who joined the Giants on a three-year, $18.75 million deal this offseason. The new teammates figure to be stalwarts atop the Giants’ lineup this season, with La Stella likely serving as a key table-setter against right-handed pitching.

The Giants got their first look at what that type of 1-2 punch would look like in Monday’s 1-1, six-inning tie against the Rangers at Surprise Stadium. La Stella batted leadoff in his Giants debut and reached base in each of his two plate appearances, while Yastrzemski went 1-for-2 in the No. 2 spot.

“It was really exciting to see those two hitters hit back-to-back,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “You can tell what a hard grind those two hitters will give opposing pitchers.”

La Stella, who is known for his plate discipline and his ability to grind out at-bats, fittingly opened the game by working an eight-pitch walk against Texas right-hander Kyle Gibson. Yastrzemski followed with a single to right field, though the Giants were unable to score after Darin Ruf hit into a double play and Jason Vosler grounded out.

“[Hitting coach] Donnie [Ecker] leaned over and jokingly said, ‘Kap, this is your love language,'” Kapler said of La Stella’s plate appearance. “It’s so accurate. We always talk about hitters that are especially passive on pitches they can’t drive and especially aggressive on pitches they can drive. That sort of sums up Tommy La Stella.”

In his next at-bat in the third inning, La Stella doubled into the right-center-field gap off left-hander Taylor Hearn and advanced to third on a flyout by Yastrzemski, beating a strong throw from Rangers right fielder Adolis García. Ruf then walked to put runners on the corners with two outs, but Vosler lined out to end the inning.

“I felt great,” La Stella said. “It was good to be back out there. First game of the spring is always just kind of getting your bearings and offensively getting a feel for the strike zone. But I felt like I saw the ball well. I had a good swing in that second AB, so I’ll take it.”

La Stella said he doesn’t have a strong preference as to where Kapler decides to hit him in the lineup, though he acknowledged that the leadoff spot seems to suit him well.

“I do like leadoff, but I feel comfortable pretty much throughout the lineup,” La Stella said. “I think maybe my skill set might lend itself to that spot in the order, so I’m good with how it lines up.”

La Stella is expected to be a versatile piece in the infield for the Giants, too. The 32-year-old veteran started at second base on Monday, but he said he’s also been taking ground balls at the corner infield spots and could see time at first base if Brandon Belt (right heel surgery) isn’t ready for the start of the season.

Yastrzemski said he’s looking forward to seeing what La Stella can contribute to the Giants in 2021 and beyond.

“I’m glad he’s no longer going to be hitting walk-offs against us,” Yastrzemski said last week. “Maybe we can get some from him for us.”