Sabol holds his own in catching debut as Giants drop finale

April 2nd, 2023

NEW YORK -- The Giants’ fluid catching situation took another twist Sunday when former top prospect landed on the 10-day injured list (retroactive to Friday) with a mid back strain.

Bart was expected to start his first game behind the plate on Saturday, but he was scratched after experiencing tightness in his back during batting practice. He underwent an MRI exam that revealed a “very small” strain, but manager Gabe Kapler said San Francisco is hoping he’ll be ready to return as soon as he’s eligible, April 10.

With Bart down, the Giants are expected to have veteran and Rule 5 Draft pick split catching duties. After making his first two starts of the season in left field, the versatile Sabol made his catching debut in the Giants’ 6-0 loss to the Yankees on Sunday at Yankee Stadium, and he seemed to handle himself well behind the plate overall.

“Honestly, I thought it was great,” right-hander said. “I think he should be really encouraged by it. I think we were on the same page. We had a good meeting before. Obviously, I knew it was his first time, but this is the Yankees and Yankee Stadium. Big task for the first time catching a big league game. … Hopefully, he feels good about this one and where he’s at, because we’re going to count on him.”

Stripling’s Giants debut didn’t go exactly as he had hoped, as the 33-year-old veteran surrendered a career-high-matching three home runs -- including a mammoth 485-foot shot to Giancarlo Stanton in the third inning -- and departed after allowing four runs over five innings. San Francisco’s offense couldn’t pick him up, producing only three hits and striking out 12 times as the club was shut out for the second time in three games at Yankee Stadium.

“I’m not really discouraged by it, but if I could have two pitches back, it’d be obviously the [Aaron] Judge and the Stanton sliders that were just soft-served over the middle,” Stripling said. “They whacked them.”

Even before the injury to Bart, the Giants expected to fold the 25-year-old Sabol into their catching mix at some point this weekend. Sabol was drafted as an outfielder by the Pirates, but he caught in college and began getting reps there in the Minors in 2021. San Francisco planned to evaluate him primarily as a backstop this spring, but injuries to and created a path for Sabol to make the team an outfielder/third catcher.

Pérez, 34, caught the first two games of the regular season, but the Giants will have to lean on Sabol to take on more of the workload behind the plate while Bart is down. San Francisco recently added two-time All-Star on a Minor League deal, but he’s expected to build up at Triple-A Sacramento before becoming a big league option for the club.

“Blake actually has really good eye-hand coordination and a physical, athletic body, so I think he can handle those demands,” Kapler said. “His throwing is probably the most challenging part of his game and something that he’s working on. We also look for confidence, something that tells us that he’s not going to be uncomfortable with his own inexperience.

"That’s something that Blake has. He believes in himself. He’s not scared of any of these moments. He doesn’t get bent out of shape when things don’t go his way.”

While Sabol established a good rapport with Stripling, things didn’t go quite as smoothly when he caught right-hander in the seventh. Hjelle, who was recalled from Triple-A to replace Bart on the 26-man roster, yanked three breaking balls that got past Sabol, the third of which allowed the final run of the afternoon for the Yankees.

Sabol also couldn’t get a throw off to second base when Anthony Volpe and Gleyber Torres executed a double steal to prolong New York’s two-run rally.

“I thought he did a fine job back there,” Kapler said. “Quality with his pitch-calling, framed well. He had one block that he missed. A couple of other ones that Hjelle just yanked, and he wasn’t going to be able to get in front of those, anyway. Sometimes, catchers will backhand those and be able to pick ‘em, but it is kind of hit or miss. I thought he did a fine job overall.”