Crawford makes tweaks, out to shed platoon
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants haven’t explicitly used the term “platoon” to describe Brandon Crawford’s role in 2020, but it’s not difficult to detect the pattern of usage that has emerged for the veteran shortstop over the first few weeks of the regular season.
Crawford, a left-handed hitter, has started only two of the Giants’ nine games against left-handed pitchers this year. He was out of the starting lineup for the first two games of the Bay Bridge Series at Oracle Park, as the A’s sent a pair of lefties to the mound in Jesús Luzardo and Sean Manaea. The right-handed-hitting Mauricio Dubón started at shortstop over Crawford.
“It’s not something I’m used to,” Crawford said Friday. “It’s not something I’m necessarily thrilled about. I’m working as hard as I can to try to get in there every day.”
The Giants opened the season with several players who appeared likely to be used as platoon pieces, but a few of them, including Donovan Solano (.444 entering Saturday), Austin Slater (.342) and Wilmer Flores (.292), have grown into everyday roles with their consistent production at the plate.
Crawford, who is signed through the 2021 season, has yet to make a similar push for more playing time, as he entered Saturday batting .204 with no extra-base hits over his first 19 games of the season. In his limited opportunities against lefties, he’s gone 0-for-10 with three strikeouts.
“I may be pressing a little bit too much to maybe show something to be able to get in there against the next lefty that we face,” Crawford said. “Maybe putting a little too much pressure on [myself], but I think I continue to put good at-bats together and hit the ball hard.”
The 33-year-old admitted that it’s “more difficult” to get his timing down when he’s playing primarily against righties, but he said he’s felt better in recent days after making a few adjustments to his setup.
“I closed my stance a little bit more,” Crawford said. “It’s still not straight up with the pitcher or anything like that, or closed by any means, but it’s not quite as open as it was before. And then my hands are a little bit further back. That was something that I did on my own. That wasn’t something that the hitting coaches wanted me to do. For some reason my hands were creeping forward a little too far and it was taking too long, I think, for me to get loaded, which caused my timing to be off.”
Manager Gabe Kapler appreciates Crawford’s desire to play every day for the Giants, but he said Solano and Flores’ success has made it “impossible” to keep them out of the lineup, particularly against lefties. The Giants also want to create opportunities for the 26-year-old Dubón, who is viewed as a big part of the future.
“I understand that it’s difficult. I understand that it’s not the perfect way to get hot and get going,” Kapler said. “All of our players, if you sat them down, would say, ‘I want to earn this, I want to show my teammates and everybody I’m capable of being in the lineup every single day.’ Craw certainly has done that in his career for a very long time. Now this is a big challenge for him, and I understand.”
Crawford worked hard to overhaul his swing in conjunction with the Giants’ new hitting coaches over the offseason, but he found it difficult to sustain the progress he made during the three-month shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
His goal was to put the ball in the air more, but his fly-ball percentage is sitting at a career-low 25.6 percent this year, according to FanGraphs. His ground-ball rate is at a career-high 51.2 percent, though he’s been encouraged by the quality of contact he’s made this week after rolling back some of the tweaks he implemented over the winter.
“We had completely revamped my swing, and I think maybe it was too much all at once,” Crawford said. “I felt a lot more balanced and a little bit better about my swing in general over the past maybe four or five days.”
• Austin Slater returned to the starting lineup on Saturday after missing two games with a flexor strain in his right elbow. Slater started at designated hitter and batted leadoff against Manaea. Kapler said he observed Slater go through his warmup progression in the batting cage and was encouraged by what he saw.
“His swing looked right where he left off,” Kapler said. “He wasn’t holding back at all, and he gave us the confidence to put him right back in the lineup at DH.”
Kapler said Slater has not yet resumed throwing, so it’s unclear when he’ll be ready to play outfield again for the Giants.
• Reliever Sam Coonrod (right lat strain) headed to the Giants’ alternate training site in Sacramento on Saturday to begin throwing live batting practice and logging appearances in simulated games.