Gabe Kapler: Joey Bart taking 'steps forward' since return to Giants lineup

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How Kapler believes Bart has taken 'steps forward' since return originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Down by three runs in the bottom of the ninth against the closer with the most saves in baseball, the Giants needed a little bit of magic at Oracle Park on Friday night.

Then, Joey Bart stepped into the box.

In just his ninth game back in the lineup since a demotion to Triple-A in early June, Bart kicked off San Francisco’s improbable 8-5 comeback over the Milwaukee Brewers by sending a 95-mph Josh Hader sinker into the left field bleachers.

Once Mike Yastrzemski’s walk-off grand slam had touched down in the visitor’s bullpen and the chaotic celebration on the field had subsided, Giants manager Gabe Kapler told reporters after the game that Bart’s home run set the tone for the wild win -- a sign of the “good adjustments” he made during his time in Sacramento, and of a hitter who is taking advantage of every chance he gets.

“It was definitely a tone-setter,” Kapler said. “And one of the things that our hitting coaches are advocating for every day is getting as many opportunities for Joey as possible. What you’re seeing is we’re not really splitting these games up. Joey’s getting the lion’s share, and I think that’s because he went and he made really good adjustments.

“Still got a long way to go and I think we want to be measured about how we talk about it, but he’s taken some steps forward and the coaching staff and his teammates feel like he can be a productive major leaguer, if not an especially impactful one.”

Bart’s Triple-A stint might have been shorter than the Giants expected -- he was back in the Giants’ lineup July 6 after both Curt Casali and Evan Longoria landed on the IL -- but the young catcher’s adjustments have been evident in the box.

He has played in nine of the Giants’ last 10 games since his return, and although it’s a small sample size, Bart’s slashing .318/.400/.682 in that span. In 108 plate appearances to start the season before his demotion, his slash line was a disappointing .156/.296/.300.

Perhaps the most prominent difference is Bart’s strikeout percentage, which has dropped from 54 percent before the demotion to 36 percent in July.

Bart also has raised his batting average by over 30 points, but his biggest test yet came as he faced Hader in a huge spot Friday night. After the game, starting pitcher Alex Wood still was in awe of what his 25-year-old teammate accomplished not only during the pivotal at-bat but since he has been back in San Francisco’s lineup.

“When you talk about what Joey’s done since he’s been back, I mean, it’s not an ‘ebbs and flows of the season,’ it’s tangible changes he’s made with his swing when he got sent down,” Wood told reporters. “And to see the at-bats he’s put together, the quality at-bats and starting to see some results.

“He’s turning in the direction of putting that completely behind him. I don’t care who you are, if you’re going good or going bad, putting a swing on Josh Hader like that to start the ninth, on your best days guys can’t do that.”

It was certainly a swing of the bat that would instill confidence in any big league hitter, let alone one working to prove himself as the heir apparent to none other than Buster Posey. And Bart apparently showed flashes of Posey’s leadership on Friday night, although after the game he downplayed his sixth-inning dugout comments that Yastrzemski called “refreshing.”

RELATED: Yaz shares Bart's inspiring message that fueled walk-off win

“It felt like the energy was sucked out of the dugout, and I think it just kind of grinded Joey’s gear, and he was just a little fired up that there wasn’t any really positive energy at the time,” Yastrzemski said. “It was really good to hear and really cool to kind of see him get fired up like that.”

Bart clearly took that same energy to the plate in the ninth.

But in true humble fashion reminiscent of his predecessor after the game, Bart applauded his team as a whole for its comeback effort over the Brewers -- all it took was a little bit of magic.

“Really your mindset is just to go and try to compete, find a way on base,” Bart said. “It magically happened in the ninth inning, and that was one of the -- definitely the craziest thing I’ve ever been a part of.

“So I’m glad we all kind of came together and were able to end it there.”

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