When Giants catcher Andrew Susac drove a 2-0 pitch from Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Tim Dillard over the left-field wall at Scottsdale Stadium for a three-run home run in Thursday’s Cactus League game, it was gratifying for Susac on two levels.
First, it signified that Susac, a Roseville native and Jesuit High School graduate, is healthy after playing most of last season with nagging wrist discomfort. The pitch from Dillard was middle-in, and Susac exhibited the bat speed and wrist snap that he didn’t have in 2015, when at times he used a bat two ounces lighter than his normal 32 just to give himself a fighting chance.
Second, it was the kind of situational at-bat Susac might face during the season as the likely backup catcher to Buster Posey. The Brewers, leading 6-3 in the fifth inning, brought in the sidewinding Dillard to face Susac with two outs. Susac’s homer tied the score and, though the Giants went on to lose 8-7, defeated Milwaukee’s chess move.
“Bringing in a righty specialist to face a righty, a lot of times that’s how it rolls in the National League,” said Susac, 25. “Definitely try to gear up and take advantage of that spot right there, because I know that’s going to be part of my job again this year.”
Bringing in a righty specialist to face a righty, a lot of times that’s how it rolls in the National League. Definitely try to gear up and take advantage of that spot right there, because I know that’s going to be part of my job again this year.
Andrew Susac, after hitting a three-run homer off Milwaukee’s Tim Dillard
Having Susac healthy is an enticing option for the Giants, whose right-handed hitters generated 68 home runs last season, third-fewest in the National League. Susac slugged .466 during his first taste of the majors in 2014, albeit in only 35 games. When Susac was spotted last week taking ground balls at first base, manager Bruce Bochy told reporters the idea was to find another way of getting Susac’s bat in the lineup.
“The big swing he took, that’s what he did for us a couple years ago,” Bochy said after Thursday’s game. “Three-run homers are nice – especially when they tie a ballgame, so that’s good for us.”
Susac’s wrist issues last year began in spring training, and he thought he had addressed them with a cortisone shot. But the pain returned and worsened around the middle of the season, when cortisone stopped being effective. His swing and throwing mechanics were affected, and he had surgery in September to remove bone fragments and address inflammation.
“I had just started doing things the wrong way, bad habits, trying to avoid the pain,” said Susac, who batted .218 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 52 games last season. “Mentally, it beat me up more than it did physically, knowing I’m not 100 percent and I’m not contributing all I could to the team out there.”
.218 Andrew Susac’s batting average in 52 games last season
Susac said he felt normal within a month after the surgery, and the only question was whether he would have his cast removed before his Nov. 14 wedding. Susac and his wife, Maggie, honeymooned in Big Sur and cut their trip a day short, he said, when they agreed to drive home and adopt a puppy.
In another offseason change, Susac shortened his swing this winter by toning down the exaggerated lift-and-plant of his left leg that he had used as a timing mechanism. It’s something Susac said he had done since high school, but he it scrapped it because it can be tough to maintain that timing when getting irregular at-bats as a bench player.
“I still have a leg kick,” Susac said, “but it’s more of a little tuck than a kick.”
Susac’s absence last season allowed Trevor Brown to join the Giants in September and impress them with his handling of the pitching staff over the final two weeks. As a result, Susac is not locked into the backup catcher job this spring, but he said he understands.
“It’s hard to blame with the season I put up last year – it’s not up to my standards and where I want to be,” Susac said. “I think the year before kind of portrayed the player I think I can be up here and who I think I am.
“Would it be nice to know that you have a job coming into spring training and be ready to rock? Of course. But as far as competition goes, it is what it is. You always want to have a little competition, and I think it keeps both players going.”