LOS ANGELES -- Mauricio Dubón is one of the most versatile defenders on the Giants’ roster, but his slow start to the season at the plate made it difficult for him to earn consistent playing time this year.
In an effort to shake up their slumping bench, the Giants decided to option Dubón to Triple-A Sacramento and promote fellow utility man Thairo Estrada prior to Tuesday night’s series finale against the Dodgers.
Manager Gabe Kapler acknowledged that it was difficult news to deliver to Dubón, who last played in the Minors in 2019. Dubón was projected to serve as San Francisco’s starting center fielder and backup shortstop this year, but he was squeezed out of the outfield mix following the emergence of left-handed-hitters like Steven Duggar and LaMonte Wade Jr. Opportunities in the infield have become scarce as well, as the Giants already have Brandon Crawford, Donovan Solano and Wilmer Flores holding down starting jobs on the dirt.
With limited playing time, Dubón recorded a .646 OPS with five home runs over 66 games in 2021. It became clear that the Giants had lost confidence in his bat after Kapler opted to send backup catcher Curt Casali to pinch-hit in the eighth inning of a 3-2 loss at Dodger Stadium despite having Dubón and Austin Slater available on the bench.
“Not an easy discussion, but he was a pro about it,” Kapler said. “The message was essentially, ‘Look, we want you to have an opportunity to be the player we know you can be. Most likely the way that happens is by you getting consistent reps.’ Here, he was struggling to find those reps. I don’t think it’s a secret, we faced a lot of right-handed pitching, and we’ve got a lot of left-handed-hitting outfielders and two very dependable infielders at second base and third base, along with Craw having a lot of success. There just weren’t ways that we could get him consistent reps.
“We thought that Estrada had earned the opportunity to come up here and try to play this role for a little while, while Mauricio goes down and gets those consistent opportunities. We just weren’t able to provide those for him here.”
Estrada, who was acquired from the Yankees in April to give the Giants more upper-level shortstop depth, has enjoyed a hot start at Triple-A Sacramento, where he was batting .385 with a 1.057 OPS and seven home runs over 37 games this year. He is expected to fill a similar role to Dubón, as he can play shortstop, second, third and the corner outfield.
Kapler said he doesn’t expect to use Estrada in center field, as the Giants currently have Duggar, Slater and Wade as options there.
Dubón’s demotion is a disappointing development considering the improved plate discipline he showed at the end of last season and during Spring Training, when he led the Giants with 10 walks during Cactus League play. The 26-year-old Honduran drew only eight walks and struck out 38 times over 158 at-bats this year, resulting in a meager .272 on-base percentage.
“This is probably an oversimplification,” Kapler said. “Making good decisions oftentimes comes with consistency, and I don’t think he was getting the consistent opportunities. That made it more difficult for him to hit the ball on a line more frequently, walk more, strike out less, all those things that we really hang our hats on.”
Kapler said the plan is for Dubón to continue to split time between the infield and the outfield at Sacramento so he can stay prepared for another possible look as a utility player down the line.
“What I shared with him is everyone wants an opportunity for 550 plate appearances, just go out there and play every day,” Kapler said. “That’s not the role that Mauricio has on this team right now. So the advice is embrace this role and be good at it, even under difficult circumstances, and that will give you your best chance to get more reps and see more playing time.”