Buster Posey’s injury looms large in Giants camp

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Everything was going exceedingly well Sunday in San Francisco Giants camp.

Barry Zito’s got a new approach, something about getting “a little more into my legs,” he said, which is good if that has anything at all to do with him getting a little more into the sixth inning.

Brian Wilson’s got a fresher elbow. Tim Lincecum is ripped, likely spawning Bay Area “Lin-vanity!”

And Buster Posey was smiling, raking coach Ron Wotus in batting practice (“Four-seam coming at 55,” he mused. “I tend to square that up.”), manning his position, making throws, looking every bit like Buster Posey.

A full day of work Sunday at Scottsdale Stadium brought a smile to the face of Giants catcher Buster Posey.
(US Presswire)

I’m sure I even heard general manager Brian Sabean chortle, unless that was the dude in charge of the ballpark radar gun weighing the whole “into my legs” thing.

Following his first full and official day in a Giants uniform since May 25, Posey sat in the first-base dugout under a gray sky at lovely Scottsdale Stadium. Sweat matted his hair. A touch of red colored his cheeks. He was back and loving it.

Posey said his ankle is healed, other than his first few steps some mornings. He said he intends to be a catcher “for as long as I possibly can,” while acknowledging a move to first base is probably out there somewhere. And he said he long ago accepted Scott Cousins’ “apology” – that being a reporter’s word, not Posey’s or, for that matter, Cousins’ – for leaving him broken at home plate going on nine months ago.

And this is where the first Sunday of spring training ran aground for me.

A few minutes after manager Bruce Bochy restated his belief catchers needed rulebook protection from baserunners and revealed he would order Posey out from in front of the plate, Posey laid it all on Cousins again.

“I want to make it clear, I wasn’t blocking the plate to begin with,” he said. “That’s the dicey part.”

And I want to make clear, Posey’s injuries were no more Cousins’ fault than they were Posey’s fault, the third-base coach’s fault, the in-between hop’s fault or the rulebook’s fault.

The umpire points to the pitcher and over the next three hours the game happens. Fifty guys try to win it. Every once in a while one of them find himself in a bad position, maybe vulnerable, maybe not, but squarely within the lines.

[ Hot Stove Daily: Giants will go as far as Buster Posey carries them ]

Then the worst happens and everybody – everybody – wishes it hadn’t. That Posey had to be carried from the field was awful. That it probably killed the Giants’ season was the worst kind of luck.

So, it was wonderful to see Posey together again, walking among Giants, practicing alongside them. The young man was meant to play the game, and built – or rebuilt now – to play that punishing position. He’s special in that way.

“I know they’re glad to have him back,” Bochy said of the rest of the Giants. “He’s very popular in the clubhouse. They know the long road he had to endure. … He has a great way about him. His makeup is off the charts.”

Of course everyone is sorry Posey missed four months of baseball. His development – he’s 24, remember, with one full season in the big leagues – lost 400 plate appearances and hundreds of innings behind the plate. In his absence, an already challenged Giants offense gave out. The Arizona Diamondbacks ran off with the NL West.

The Giants are different with him.

He does not, however, live outside the game’s residue. Posey made the proper play. So did Cousins.

One walked away. The other spent nine months strapped to a physical therapist’s table, had thoughts of giving up catching, and only last month told his wife he was hungry for baseball again.

“It’s a good feeling to have,” he said.

[ Big League Stew: Celebrating the start of another Spring Swing ]

In lieu of MLB ordering runners to pull up or hook slide or whatever when a collision at the plate is inevitable (the former catcher Bochy had such a conversation about it with the former catcher Joe Torre, when Torre was still in charge of baseball operations), the Giants will suggest Posey opt for swipe tags.

Aware he might be asking the impossible from such a gamer, Bochy said, “I’ll take it out of Buster’s hands. As manager, that’s my job. I certainly don’t want somebody to think Buster isn’t doing his job. … There’s ways you can make the tag without putting yourself in jeopardy.”

Maybe Posey will play it that way and maybe he won’t. We can know he will play it the right way. Just like he did nine months ago. And just like Scott Cousins did.

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Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Feb 19, 2012