Ruben Tejada said he was not surprised to find himself back in the major leagues so quickly. But then, he had already made one comeback of sorts.
The Giants’ newest infielder, called up Wednesday from the River Cats, was part of one of the most memorable and controversial plays of last year’s postseason. Playing shortstop for the Mets in the National League Division Series, Tejada’s lower right leg was broken when the Dodgers’ Chase Utley slid into him at second base attempting to break up a double play.
The play influenced Major League Baseball to institute new rules this season governing slides at second base. It also prematurely ended Tejada’s postseason and turned out to be the last game he played for the Mets, who waived him in the spring.
Tejada soon signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, who designated him for assignment in May. He signed a minor-league contract with the Giants on June 14 and had played 11 games with the River Cats before San Francisco purchased his contract to replace second baseman Joe Panik, who is on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion.
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Tejada said his leg has healed – and that he did not give much thought upon signing with the Giants that he was joining the Dodgers’ rivals. He also said he has not spoken with Utley since the playoffs.
“Right now, for me, it’s history,” said Tejada, 26. “At that time, there was a little frustration for me because it’s a playoff. But right now I feel good, feel healthy again, and I’m ready.”
In fact, Tejada said his leg had mostly healed by last December. After the Mets released him in spring training, the Cardinals signed him to a reported $1.5 million deal to bolster their infield. But Tejada started the season on the disabled list with a strained quadriceps, and upon returning he hit just .176 in 23 games with St. Louis.
When the Giants expressed interest, Tejada said he seized the chance to join another winning team.
Capable of playing three infield positions, Tejada represents depth to a Giants team that has four infielders from its Opening Day roster on the DL. Manager Bruce Bochy said Tejada, a right-handed batter, will play mostly third base against left-handed pitching for now.
Tejada’s Giants career got off to an inauspicious start Wednesday. Thrust immediately into the starting lineup at third base, he was hitless in four at-bats and dropped a foul popup in the third inning of the Giants’ 7-1 loss trying to make a basket catch.
The new slide rules have been among of the most visible changes to the game this season. Runners have been automatically called out for failure to slide into and remain in contact with the base. Ironically, Tejada was on deck Wednesday when Giants outfielder Mac Williamson was called out for violating the rule, resulting in a double play that ended the second inning.
The so-called “neighborhood play,” which used to allow middle infielders leeway at the bag when turning a double play, is also now reviewable. That has led to double plays being overturned because a fielder did not step on the base.
Tejada said he had no mental hurdles to overcome regarding turning the double play when he returned from his injury this spring but added, “They changed the rule now, so everything is different.”
Despite the added protection supposedly provided to infielders, Tejada said his approach to the double-play turn has not changed.
“Try to do the same: stay focused because you never know,” he said. “If it’s a fast ground ball or something like that, try to throw to first as fast as I can.”