PHOENIX — There was a right-handed starter facing the Giants on Monday, but no LaMonte Wade Jr. in the lineup. Later on, in the sixth inning, manager Gabe Kapler had an opportunity to pull a bat off his bench and face a righty, but he went with a hobbled Mike Yastrzemski over Wade.
What’s going on with this platoon-oriented team’s favorite righty masher? The guy whose clutch hits last season came in such quantity that they made history and garnered him the nickname, “Late Night LaMonte”?
Kapler explained after the Giants’ 7-0 loss — their fifth in a row — that Wade was, “working through some things with his swing and we want to give him some space to work through those things.”
A day later, Wade shared some of what’s been troubling him this season and the fixes he is working on.
A year after enjoying a breakout campaign with 18 home runs and an .808 OPS (while collecting more game-tying or go-ahead hits in the ninth inning or later than anyone in the past 40 years), Wade is batting .173/.292/.333 (a .625 OPS) in only 27 games, with his season marred by a nagging knee injury he suffered in spring training.
“I feel like I’m just getting a little tied up, not having enough space to work right now with the move I was doing,” Wade said Tuesday before the Giants’ second of three games here with the D-backs. “But these last couple days, we’ve been watching video and getting the feel in the cage and BP. It’s feeling a lot better.”
On Monday, Wade got the ballpark early and took extra swings on the field. He’s spent even more time in the video room.
Speaking at his locker Tuesday, Wade used a herky-jerky hand motion to demonstrate how “not having enough space” has impacted his path to the ball.
“I’m getting too disconnected, so I’m long instead of being short to ball,” Wade said. “That’s what we’re trying to get back to.”
Kapler has noticed a less aggressive approach at the plate, possibly a sign that his struggles have taken a toll on his confidence.
“Sometimes when LaMonte is just slightly more tentative, you notice it right away,” Kapler said. “When LaMonte is right, it’s a dangerous, hitterish look at the plate. What you see when LaMonte is where he wants to be is he’s looking to destroy the first pitch that he can drive and elevate.”
Wade said he’s been working through the swing issue ever since returning from his second stint on the injured list. Since injuring his knee on the basepaths in a game late in spring training, the ailment has sidelined him twice this year, including one return trip to the IL just two weeks after he was activated for the first time.
“That’s definitely been tough,” Wade said. “Trying to get in a rhythm, then you get out of it again when you get hurt and come back again and get hurt again. Really just trying to focus on staying healthy so I can get in that rhythm and finish strong.”
Wade’s season could be classified as a microcosm of the Giants’ as a whole: too injured, not clutch enough. Collectively, the Giants have had 25 players miss a combined 609 games to injury this season. And those pinch-hit heroics? San Francisco has three home runs in those situations, compared to an MLB-record 18 last season.
“When he was at his best last year, that’s when he was Late Night LaMonte, right?” Kapler said. “He was always kind of that dude for us. I don’t think anybody on our roster has any doubt that that’s in there and we just need to keep digging because it’s going to come.”
La Stella returns
For the first time since July 7, Tommy La Stella was on the Giants’ active roster Tuesday night.
The club activated him before Tuesday’s game, optioning reliever Gregory Santos to make space on the roster. Although he wasn’t in the starting lineup against Arizona’s left-handed starter, Tyler Gilbert, Kapler said there was a “good chance” that La Stella would start at either first, second or third base in Wednesday’s series finale.
“That’s where we’re trending,” Kapler said. “He’s ready to play. His pregame work has been excellent. Especially in times like we’re going through now we have to be focused on the pregame work, and that’s been good at all three positions he plays.”
#SFGiants’ Tommy La Stella is moving well in his pregame work. He’s taking ground balls at first, second and third. Expectation is for him to be in the starting lineup tomorrow, Gabe Kapler said. pic.twitter.com/TbY9h6RDXV
— Evan Webeck (@EvanWebeck) July 27, 2022
Lingering effects from offseason Achilles surgery have kept La Stella out for most of the season. After he returned from his initial ankle-related absence, he appeared in 35 games before landing on the COVID list on July 8.
Despite playing in only about one-third of the Giants’ games this season, the hobbled La Stella has logged more appearances at designated hitter (25) than anyone else on the roster. (And a reminder, that roster includes players such as Darin Ruf, Yermín Mercedes, Joc Pederson, Wilmer Flores and Brandon Belt, who all might benefit from more time at DH).
“We need him to play on the dirt pretty regularly, so that we can rotate that DH spot and keep guys healthy,” Kapler said.