San Francisco Chronicle
Deficiencies costly at plate and with glove
Kris Bryant was presented as a do-it-all ballplayer, able to appear at many positions and hit anywhere in the lineup.
In large part, that has worked out for the Giants, who have welcomed the former Cub onto their October-bound bandwagon and valued his championship pedigree.
Versatility, however, is not easy to manage, not even for the stars. In Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Braves, Bryant started at his third position in three days and struggled with a couple of plays that demonstrated how tough it is to fulfill so many roles.
The Giants, who collected just four hits (all singles) off Max Fried and two relievers, dropped a game in the standings and lead sec
ond-place Los Angeles by one game in the NL West with 12 to play. They concluded their homestand 4-3, splitting four games with the Padres and winning two of three from the Braves.
Anthony DeSclafani pitched six scoreless innings, but the game changed in the seventh when Austin Riley hit a catchable fly to right-center that Bryant didn’t catch. He appeared tentative and not so comfortable with the quirkiness of Oracle Park.
“Definitely it’s one of the weirdest right fields in baseball,” Bryant said. “You really have to try to pinch the gaps more than other fields because you’re dealing with such a deep right-center.”
Bryant ventured to the warning track toward Triples Alley, not quite quickly or assertively enough, and Riley got a double. The next batter, former Giant Adam Duvall, smoked a two-run home run for a 2-0 Braves lead.
That ended DeSclafani’s day after 84 pitches, and reliever Zack Littell immediately surrendered another homer to Eddie Rosario, who wound up hitting for the cycle, becoming the only player other than Oakland’s Eric Byrnes in 2003 to homer, triple, double and single in the same game in the park’s 21-year history.
Bryant also seemed to have a chance to catch the ball Rosario hit for a fifth-inning triple.
“The first one, I was thinking of diving for. I just had no clue how much warning track I had and didn’t want to end up diving into the wall,” Bryant said. “The second one I think was more catchable than the first.”
Bryant’s strength is giving manager Gabe Kapler plenty of lineup and defensive options. As a Giant, he has made 20 starts at third base, eight in right, seven in left and three in center, and he has been taking grounders at second base. He perfectly fits their constantly adaptive game-planning.
On the other hand, playing so many positions means less prep time at any one spot. It’s something several Giants must cope with. The constant mixing and matching has been a formula for success, even if it means sometimes a player won’t be at his optimal position in certain lineups.
Bryant has had some throwing issues, too, including at third base. He has worked on his arm slot, including in pregame drills Saturday, and that night made some nice throws from the hot corner.
“I would never use an excuse of not having enough games at a certain spot to where I’m not feeling comfortable,” Bryant said. “I feel comfortable all over. That’s what I want to be. Today, I look at those two flyballs as a learning experience for me for the next time.”
Bryant got considerable time at third when Evan Longoria was shelved, but Longoria is a three-time Gold Glover who plays no other position. The other infield spots are spoken for, meaning most of Bryant’s time will be spent in the outfield.
Right field at Oracle is one of the toughest positions to play in the majors. Few have mastered it, and Bryant is trying to adjust to his new home. Where he plays in the postseason will be an intriguing talking point in the final two weeks of the regular season.
“I don’t have concerns about Kris’ ability to play good defense out there in right field,” Kapler said. “And I do think the more he plays out there, the more comfortable and confident he’s going to get with the environment, with the wind and the tricky angles and things of that nature. Kris is an excellent athlete, and he’s going to be getting better and better.”