Reliever describes `throwing blind,' no feeling in arm
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. >> Warming up in the bullpen before his first appearance of the spring, Thomas Szapucki knew something was wrong. He couldn't feel the fingers in his left hand, which he uses to grip and throw the baseball.
Szapucki, the 26-year-old reliever acquired last season in the Darin Ruf trade, entered anyway. He faced seven batters, walked three, allowed two hits and recorded two outs. He hasn't pitch since, with what the Giants diagnosed Thursday as left arm neuropathy.
“I wasn't going to take myself out,” said Szapucki, who entered camp in position to battle for the final spot in the bullpen.
There was no pain or discomfort, he said, just a concerning numbness, the root cause of which — almost two weeks later, after an MRI scan and multiple visits to hand and nerve specialists — still has not been determined. He hasn't thrown a baseball since.
The feeling, which he described to the Giants' training staff only after sticking around in the dugout to watch the end of the inning, was “like you're throwing blind out there. You don't have any feel in anything. You don't feel your finger tips or the ball in your hand.
“So it's like, hopefully I don't hit him.”
With most of the 26-man roster settled, the final one or two spots in the bullpen were considered to be one of the few competitions in camp, along with the two open catching spots. But less than two weeks in, Szapucki became the second candidate forced out of the running by injury, after righty Cole Waites strained his lat during a pre-camp bullpen.
While Waites has resumed throwing, he's not likely to be ready for Opening Day.
Szapucki, who is out of options, seems likely to start the season on the injured list.
“I feel like I'm good enough to have that spot,” Szapucki said. “I was in a good position coming into camp to get that. Of course it's frustrating. I want to play. I want to pitch. It's why I'm here. I don't want to be here just sitting around rehabbing.”
• The Giants announced their second round of cuts from major-league camp, most notably optioning former top prospect Heliot Ramos to the minors. Last spring, Ramos was a candidate for the Opening Day roster, but only a year later he was the second player on the 40-man roster to be eliminated from contention (following Randy Rodriguez, who was optioned in the first round of cuts). The other eight players reassigned to minor-league camp: Armando Alvarez, Vaun Brown, Clint Coulter, Nick Duron, Tyler Fitzgerald, Ricardo Genovés, Trevor Hildenberger and Erik Miller. There are 57 players left in major-league camp.
• Outfielder Mitch Haniger was scratched from the Giants' lineup Friday against the Rockies. He was penciled in to bat second and play right field but was replaced by top prospect Luis Matos. No reason was immediately provided by the club. Haniger, who signed a three-year, $43.5 million contract this offseason, was limited to 57 games last season with a high ankle sprain.
• Friday's lineup against the Rockies provided a look at two pairings you're likely to see in the regular season: David Villar at second, with Thairo Estrada at short. And Alex Wood starting, with Jakob Junis coming in behind him. As currently constructed, the Giants will rely on Estrada to handle shortstop on days Brandon Crawford has off, which shifts Villar to second. Of the Wood-Junis combo, which appeals to the Giants for the opposite arm angles and pitch shapes they possess, Kapler said last week, “You could see Junis being a really nice complement to a Wood start. It could be Wood starts and Junis takes it the rest of the way. Or we bridge with somebody.”