Watson displays progress in intrasquad tilt

July 18th, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants left-hander reached a notable milestone on Friday night, logging his first inning of game action in 2020 after working his way back from a left shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of Spring Training.

Watson, who did not pitch in a Cactus League game this year before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sport back in March, worked one scoreless inning in Team Orange’s 4-3 win over Team Black at Oracle Park. The 35-year-old veteran issued a leadoff walk to Austin Slater in the first inning before inducing a groundout from Yolmer Sánchez and striking out Jaylin Davis and Hunter Pence to cap his outing.

Watson topped out at 88 mph, according to velocity readings on the scoreboard, and is still trying to establish his fastball command, but he said he was pleased with the performance overall.

“I thought it was really good, and I felt good coming out of it,” Watson said. “I liked where I was.

"I feel like I’m at the end of a normal Spring Training. I’ve still got a little velo to come. I like the shapes that I’m seeing. I like the command that I’m seeing. Changeup has been good, slider has been good. I feel strong. I wasn’t laboring out there.”

Watson said he spent the three-month layoff at his home in Florida, where he continued his physical therapy and played catch with his wife, Cassie, a former college softball player. He also purchased a portable mound that allowed him to throw bullpen sessions in his backyard.

Watson reported to Summer Camp healthy, but the Giants ramped him up slowly to avoid any setbacks with his shoulder. He said he’s optimistic that he’ll be ready to go when the Giants play their season opener against the Dodgers on Thursday.

“I feel like my pitch execution has gotten better each time out,” Watson said. “I’ve just got to keep going with the reps. I’m going off how I’ve felt in the past and where my stuff has been. I’m not the best Spring Training pitcher out there by any means, but I try to make sure that when the bell rings I’m ready to go and my stuff is where I want it to be.”

Watson should serve as a stabilizing force for a bullpen that is short on Major League experience and is unlikely to have traditional late-inning roles. Watson said the club’s entire relief corps is staying open-minded and is prepared to buy into whatever unconventional pitching strategies the Giants’ coaching staff chooses to adopt this year.

“There’s a lot of arms, and we’re going to use a lot of arms, especially in a 60-game season,” Watson said. “It’s going to be different. It’s a sprint now. There’s probably not established roles. We’re going to be mixing and matching and trying to figure out how to win a game every night. Whatever it takes. I think guys have been mostly open to it.”

Intrasquad notes

Pence and Joey Bart crushed back-to-back home runs off left-hander Andrew Suarez in the fourth inning. Pence, who dealt with foot inflammation at the beginning in camp, made his first start in left field on Friday and was cleared to run the bases.

Outfielder Jose Siri, who was added to the Giants’ player pool on Tuesday, started in right field in his first intrasquad game on Friday. He singled off Jeff Samardzija in the second and added a stolen base.

Left-hander Conner Menez relieved Samardzija in the fourth and worked three scoreless innings, racking up five strikeouts.

Crowd goes wild

The Giants experimented with piped-in crowd noise during Friday night’s scrimmage at Oracle Park. Major League Baseball provided a standard track to all 30 clubs that sounded more realistic than a previous version the Giants had tried.

“I'm not sure where the track we used came from, but let's just say it didn't hit all the right notes,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We turned it off fairly quickly. It was just kind of strange and didn't really sound like crowd noise.”

Friday’s audio provided a more accurate rendition of the typical ambient noise at a ballpark, though Watson noted one major difference from the unscripted reactions from fans.

“It sounded all positive,” Watson said. “I don’t know if there’s negative crowd noise. It’ll be interesting to see what happens on that. But yeah, it’s good. It’s better than silence, for sure.”

More injury updates

(moderate oblique strain) missed his third consecutive day of intrasquad action, but he fielded ground balls at third base on Friday afternoon. Kapler said that Longoria felt “a little soreness as he bent over to his right,” but overall he is progressing as expected.

Brandon Belt (sore right heel) is scheduled to serve as the designated hitter in Saturday’s scrimmage at Oracle Park. The Giants plan to hold Belt back from running the bases to keep him from potentially exacerbating his foot injury.

Kapler said he believes Longoria and Belt still have a shot to recover in time for Opening Day on Thursday.