Giants not ruling out La Stella for opener

Belt being slowed by right knee; Wood sharp in 2nd spring outing

March 27th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Tommy La Stella has yet to appear in a Cactus League game as he continues his recovery from offseason left Achilles surgery, but he’s far enough along in his rehab that the Giants haven’t ruled out the possibility that he could be ready for Opening Day on April 8.

“I think there’s a chance,” manager Gabe Kapler said Saturday. “We tend to follow the lead of the players and what their visions are. Tommy has shared strongly that he wants the opportunity to be ahead of schedule and be ready for Opening Day. If he demonstrates that he is and [head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner] feels like he’s physically ready for that, we’re not going to hold him back. It’s really a matter of if we think that’s the right play. It might be Opening Day, it might be a week after, but he’s getting very close to being ready.”

La Stella, 33, has resumed running the bases and could be cleared to appear in spring games as soon as next week. He is one of three veteran infielders who has been held out of Cactus League action thus far, joining first baseman Brandon Belt and third baseman Evan Longoria.

Belt has been slowed by right knee inflammation and Longoria is nursing right index finger tendinitis, but Kapler said he’s confident the corner infielders will have enough time to be ready for the start of the season. La Stella, Belt and Longoria have been simulating game action by taking plenty of at-bats during live batting practice at Scottsdale Stadium this spring.

Kapler said Belt reported to camp with discomfort in his right knee, which has given him trouble in the past. The 33-year-old underwent surgery in September 2018 to clean up the meniscus in the knee and also missed time with inflammation after injuring himself while running the bases at Angel Stadium last year.

Belt, who is back for his 12th season with the Giants after accepting a one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer, has been participating in full baseball workouts and could also make his spring debut at some point next week.

“He’s doing really well,” Kapler said. “He’s really coming along in his running program. He’s getting plenty of live at-bats. He’s in good shape and moving in the right direction. We don’t really have concerns. It’s just going to be a later start for Brandon.”

Kapler said the Giants would consider carrying La Stella on their Opening Day roster even if he isn’t ready to play nine innings at second base, as they’ll have the ability to start him at designated hitter. If La Stella is healthy, the club will have a tough decision to make regarding the utility spot on its bench, where an intriguing battle is brewing between Thairo Estrada, Mauricio Dubón and non-roster invitee Alex Blandino.

Estrada and Dubón are both out of options, but Estrada seems to have a leg up in the competition after posting an .813 OPS with seven homers over 52 games last year. The Giants would have to clear a spot on the 40-man roster to add Blandino, a Palo Alto, Calif., native who is 6-for-10 with a double and a home run over four Cactus League games this year.

Wood sharp
Left-hander Alex Wood was slated to go three innings in his second start of the spring, but he was so efficient that the Giants sent him back out for the fourth in their 2-1 loss to the Reds at Scottsdale Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Wood needed only 43 pitches to get through 3 2/3 scoreless innings, giving up only a pair of singles while striking out three. He capped his outing with back-to-back strikeouts of Tyler Stephenson and six-time All-Star Joey Votto, who uncharacteristically chased a breaking ball out of the zone for strike three.

“I felt good,” Wood said. “I wasn’t as juiced up as the first one of the spring. I thought my stuff was really good. I threw some good changeups today. I’m still working on that heater command to lefties in. I thought I threw some good ones today. Overall, I didn’t command it as well as my first outing, but it’s still pretty solid.”

Wood has logged 5 2/3 scoreless innings with six strikeouts over his first two Cactus League outings, repeatedly drawing praise from Kapler for his crisp pace on the mound.

“He’s the dream, man,” Kapler said. “He just works fast and throws a ton of strikes.”

Quick hits
• Right-hander Jakob Junis struck out two over one inning of relief in his Giants debut on Saturday. Junis, who signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal earlier this month, threw an extra inning in the bullpen after the game.

• Relievers Jake McGee, Dominic Leone and John Brebbia each tossed a scoreless inning of relief on Saturday. Submariner Tyler Rogers gave up two runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk and exited the game after being struck on the lower right leg by a comebacker off the bat of Votto.