You look over the Giants’ roster some days and you think you might be at Raley Field.
Take Tuesday, for instance. Three players who have spent much of the season with the River Cats were in the Giants’ starting lineup at AT&T Park, another came in to pinch hit and play third base, and a fifth pitched the ninth inning.
So far this year, the Giants have called up 13 players from Sacramento to fill holes in a lineup often troubled by injury. The subs have done fairly well, judging by the Giants’ performance. Entering Wednesday’s game, the Giants were 20 games over .500, had the third-best record in the majors and led the National League West by five games.
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Where would the Giants be without Conor Gillaspie, Ramiro Pena, Grant Green and Ruben Tejada while they wait for second baseman Joe Panik and third baseman Matt Duffy to return from injuries? They’ve also filled in for the Brandons when they need a rest at shortstop (Crawford) and first base (Belt).
Pena and Green are hitting better in the majors than they did in Triple A. Pena, who hit .304 for the River Cats, is batting .400 for the Giants. His pinch-hit double Sunday brought home the winning run against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Green is hitting .318 for the Giants in his five starts at second base since being called up last week (he batted .294 for the River Cats). Gillaspie, who has started 11 games at third base, has two homers and 10 RBIs.
Tejada, who played for the New York Mets last season, suffered a broken leg on Chase Utley’s rule-changing slide in last year’s National League playoffs against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Though Tejada said he’s recovered from the injury, he’s batting just .167. Maybe he’ll get to face Utley again in this year’s playoffs. Hopefully Utley will first enroll in one of those restorative justice programs that are popular in San Francisco, where the convicted sit face-to-face with their victims to atone for their crimes.
And has there been a better right fielder in the majors over the past two months than Mac Williamson, who was recalled June 2? In this Olympic year, Williamson appears to be trying out for the U.S. diving team. His sprawling grab July 4 against the Colorado Rockies glittered as brilliantly as any firework that went off later that evening. And it was only his second-best catch of the young week, when you stack it against his sprint, slide and snag in the right-field corner Tuesday. Another belly-flopper against the Rockies gave him three great catches in two games.
.400 Ramiro Pena’s batting average with the Giants; he hit .304 with the River Cats
Albert Suarez, who moved up May 6, can’t be thrilled with the bus ticket he got back to Sacramento on Monday, even if the breweries are better here. In his two months in San Francisco, Suarez had six valuable starts and kept the Giants in every game he pitched. They needed somebody to, since Matt Cain injured a hamstring May 27. The Giants sent down Suarez to make room for reliever Sergio Romo, whose beard needs its own locker in the clubhouse.
Two other one-time River Cats are still helping the Giants and may never be sent back down. Outfielder Jarrett Parker, who has made 23 starts, has five home runs and 11 RBIs. Rookie reliever Derek Law has struck out 32 in 30 1/3 innings. That’s a better strikeout-per-inning ratio than Walter “Big Train” Johnson had, although the Washington Senators Hall of Famer pitched 5,884 more innings than Law has to date.
Three other Cats-turned-Giants – pitchers Vin Mazzaro, Chris Stratton and Steven Okert – are Cats once more. Another, Chris Heston, is on the disabled list, while the fifth, Mike Broadway, was designated for assignment.
The upward movement to the big-league club has created a vacuum felt all the way to Richmond, Va., home of the Flying Squirrels, the Giants’ Double-A club.
In recent weeks, the River Cats have brought up infielders Myles Schroder, Rando Moreno and Ali Castillo, and the three looked so good in Tuesday’s 6-4 win over the Fresno Grizzlies it’s unlikely they’ll be satisfied with spending the rest of their baseball lives in the minors.
.318 Grant Green’s batting average with the Giants; he hit .294 with the River Cats
Schroder tripled in a run, drove in another with a ground ball and made three nice plays at third. Shortstop Moreno had two hits, including a triple, and two RBIs and soared into the steamy Fresno air to snag a line drive. Second baseman Castillo was 3 for 5.
And don’t forget Andrew Susac, the catcher from Jesuit High School. His three singles improved his average to .417 over the last six games. The Giants also picked up Chris Denorfia and stashed the long-time major leaguer and former River Cat in Sacramento. You can never have too much depth.
Every player in the River Cats’ clubhouse has only one item on the agenda, the dream to finally, or again, play in the major leagues.
“As long as you get a jersey,” Schroder said, “it is always alive.”