Kelby Tomlinson roomed with Matt Duffy when both played for Double-A Richmond two years ago and drew comparisons to Duffy, another lithe infielder, when he debuted for the Giants last season.
On Monday, Tomlinson arrived at Raley Field just as word broke that Duffy, rehabilitating from an Achilles’ tendon strain at Triple-A Sacramento, had been traded to the Tampa Bay Rays. No longer teammates, the two had time for only a quick farewell.
“I got to see him on his way out,” Tomlinson said, “and wish him the best of luck, and say I’d be keeping up with him.”
Tomlinson knows how quickly situations can change in baseball. For two months this season he was the Giants’ utility infielder, a role he started to grow into in May, when he batted .400 in 20 games.
On June 8, however, Tomlinson fractured his left thumb diving for a ground ball. By the time he recovered a month later, the Giants had acquired several capable backup infielders and no longer had room for him on the major-league roster. Tomlinson was optioned to Triple A and has been with the River Cats since.
After a slow start, his bat has come alive the past two weeks. With two hits in the River Cats’ 7-0 win over the Salt Lake Bees on Monday night, Tomlinson extended his hitting streak to 12 games, during which he was batting .458 (22 for 48) with 11 runs. The streak ended Tuesday afternoon when he went 0 for 3 in the River Cats’ 6-2 win over Salt Lake.
“I think it takes a little bit to kind of find your groove and trust in yourself,” Tomlinson said Monday night. “I know when I’m trying to cheat on the fastball, I usually don’t hit the fastball well and I don’t look good on breaking balls, either. It takes that little bit of time and trust to know you can stay on the breaking ball and still react to the fastball.”
Tomlinson said he needed time to regain his bat speed after missing action because of the fractured thumb. He wears a brace on the thumb inside his glove when playing defense to keep it stable. River Cats manager Jose Alguacil said he also noticed Tomlinson jumping at pitches early in counts when he first returned, possibly for another reason.
“He was pressing a little bit, probably, because he wants to go back to the big leagues,” Alguacil said. “He was able to make his adjustment and now he’s back to the Kelby we all know.”
After Tomlinson got hurt, the Giants also lost Duffy and Joe Panik (concussion) to the disabled list and turned to replacements such as Ramiro Pena, Grant Green and Conor Gillaspie. Those players helped the Giants to the majors’ best record at the All-Star break, so when Tomlinson finished his rehab July 10, the Giants kept him in the minors.
“I think the tough thing with that was we kind of rushed the rehab to try to get back as quick as possible,” Tomlinson said. “Maybe if we’re going to be optioned, we should’ve not tried to rush it so much.
“But in the end I want to be playing. I want to get at-bats. And as it was getting closer, you knew that would be an option, considering everybody up there did a great job. Overall, I wasn’t upset or frustrated. I’m just ready to play, wherever they have me.”
Days such as Monday underscore the idea things can change at any time. The Giants’ parting with Duffy, their Opening Day third baseman, was widely seen as a surprise. The club making two deals before the non-waiver trade deadline, Tomlinson said, “keeps you on your toes.”
The same could apply overall to the River Cats, who amid Monday’s activity saw their roster transaction count for the season climb to 144. Also traded by the Giants on Monday was catcher and Jesuit High School alum Andrew Susac, who was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers for reliever Will Smith.
The loss of Susac, who had spent all season with Sacramento, may have resonated more given his local ties. Earlier this season, the River Cats held a rare promotional night at Raley Field centered on a current player when they gave out “Susacramento” shirts to fans.
“He is such a fan favorite, and he did a lot of stuff in the community,” River Cats general manager Chip Maxson said. “It’s a loss. But the Giants do a great job of drafting good people, good human beings. We’re blessed to have a lot of great players and great people on the roster still.”
Because of the changes Monday, Alguacil said he considered addressing his team after the game, “if I saw some guys down or whatever.”
“But you saw what happened,” he said of the River Cats’ 7-0 win. “We reacted well, and I don’t want to focus on bad things.”
Alguacil said it has been tough at times this season to “try to get a feeling for your team” given the amount of roster turnover, but that is “part of the challenge” in Triple A.
“I never like to focus on anything that’s going to bring bad energy or bring guys down,” he said. “We dealt with it, we did good, we know we have a job to do and move forward. They were part of the team up to today, and that’s part of life.”