WASHINGTON — When Jakob Junis relieved Sam Long in the third inning Friday night, he became the 999th player to appear in a game for the Giants since the club moved to San Francisco. A few innings later, Luis Gonzalez became No. 1,000.
Both players figure to serve important roles for the Giants, especially in the short term, as the club navigates two injuries within its starting rotation and another to its primary center fielder against right-handers. So, what can the Giants expect from players No. 999 and No. 1,000 in franchise history?
Gonzalez the new Duggar?
Steven Duggar is out until at least June 20, placed on the 60-day IL this week with a moderate oblique strain. To replace him, the Giants brought in another left-handed hitter whom they also trust to play center field.
The Giants acquired Gonzalez late last season via an opportunistic waiver claim, after he was designated for assignment by the Chicago White Sox while set to undergo surgery to repair the labrum in his left shoulder. Now that he’s fully recovered, Gonzalez said he is comfortable at the plate and playing all three outfield positions, and manager Gabe Kapler said the same.
Gonzalez was considered one of the White Sox’s top 10 prospects the past four seasons and is still only 26 years old. He showed why the Giants believed in him enough to claim him with major surgery in his future with a strong showing in spring training, which he translated to an equally hot start at Triple-A (.283/.389/.500). Gonzalez said he did n’t make any major adjustments at the plate, crediting his early success this season to a consistent offseason regiment while rehabbing from his operation.
“It was a more organized offseason for me,” Gonzalez said. “For (the Giants) to put me on the 60 (day injured list), that’s something the White Sox didn’t do, so that shows the interest is there. This is where I want to be.”
Until LaMonte Wade Jr. (left knee inflammation/bone bruising) returns from the rehab assignment he began Saturday, Gonzalez could see regular playing time against right-handers. Making his first start Saturday against Washington righty Aaron Sanchez, Gonzalez batted eighth and played right field, while Mike Yastrzemski shifted over to center.
“He could slide into the way we were using Duggar until Wade comes back, and then when Wade comes back, we’ll see where we are,” Kapler said. “These things have a way of working themselves out. But in the short-term, we’re very comfortable with Luis at all three outfield positions and playing regularly against right-handed pitching.”
Long-Junis a possible solution to rotation crunch
Lost in the shuffle of a seven-run explosion and then the drama of another unwritten rules fiasco, the Giants got seven shutout innings from the combination of Long and Junis. Facing a pitching crunch over their upcoming stretch of games, losing a scheduled day off Monday with their makeup game against the Brewers, in addition to Alex Cobb and Anthony DeSclafani sidelined with injuries, it sounds like the Long-Junis piggyback combo could be an option the Giants turn to again.
The common theme to their success: throwing strikes and working quickly, two tenants of the Giants pitching staff.
“(Long) definitely had good stuff. More importantly, he threw a lot of strikes,” Kapler said. “(Junis) utilized all his offspeed pitches well. He Filled up the zone. Worked fast. He was efficient. Obviously he was huge for our bullpen.”
Long’s fastball velocity dipped last season after injuring his back, but it is back in the 94-96 mph range that pairs well with his big-breaking curveball. Although he made five starts for the Giants last year, he hasn’t been stretched out this season beyond the two innings he threw Friday night. Kapler said he likes the role that Long has taken on this season, which allows him to be available more than once every five days.