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Kapler saves pinch-hitters for the perfect spot in Giants' win originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SAN FRANCISCO -- Gabe Kapler weathered the storm when he was hired by the Giants. As he sat through an introductory press conference that felt more like an interrogation at times, Kapler tried to sprinkle in a few of his beliefs, something that continued in the coming months as he put his staff together.
Above all, Kapler promised that the Giants would not be outworked and they would not face a team that was more prepared than they were. They might not have the most talent, and they definitely wouldn't have the players with the freshest legs, but they promised to be ready for every situation they might face every night.
One of the best examples of that in Kapler's 95 games in charge came in the seventh inning Monday. Or, perhaps it came six hours earlier, when Kapler was asked on his daily Zoom call about having Steven Duggar in center field over Austin Slater.
Kapler credited Duggar, saying he has earned this opportunity with hard work at the alternate site and that the staff wants to get a long look at him. And then Kapler kind of called his shot, giving a preview of what was to come.
"I think it also gives us an opportunity to use Slater and (Darin) Ruf off the bench in big spots," Kapler said. "They have a pretty left-handed-heavy bullpen and so those two bats off the bench will come in handy for us."
Kapler ended up pushing all his chips to the center of the table, using Slater and Ruf against lefty John King -- one of six in the Rangers' bullpen -- but then also adding Mauricio Dubon to the mix when the first two reached base but didn't give the Giants the lead. Slater, hitting for Duggar drew a walk. Ruf, hitting for Alex Wood, singled. Dubon, hitting for Mike Tauchman, gave the Giants the lead with a single to left. They would go on to win 3-1.
"It worked out well for us," Kapler said. "It's tough when you're going to roll out three pinch-hitters all at once because that can end in outs, as well, and if you don't end up scoring a run you're kind of almost out of players. You've got (just Curt Casali) left on the bench, but we do want to get the platoon advantage when we can. We're not always going to get there, but tonight we were able to do it with pinch-hitters in succession."
Kapler admitted the inning was an uncomfortable one to watch from the top step. He doesn't like to use his backup catcher as a pinch-hitter, so in essence he was using his whole bench to get a lead to the eighth inning. "It just kind of leaves you exposed," Kapler said. But it also left the Giants with the lead.
Dubon fouled off five pitches before roping a single into left. The Giants would tack on another run on an error and Tyler Rogers and Jake McGee closed it down, as they have done so often through 21 wins.
This was one that Kapler and his staff were able to picture beforehand, but it's not as easy as just coming up with a game plan. It has to be executed, and Kapler pointed to one coach in particular, as well as his players. He credited hitting coach Dustin Lind for doing "a tremendous job in the cage getting these guys ready for the big pinch-hit moments."
"They're basically training for those spots," Kapler said. "That doesn't guarantee success. There are going to be times where we're going to roll out the same program that we did tonight and it's going to be unsuccessful. That's baseball. But when it works the way it did tonight, it's gratifying."
As much pregame and in-game work as the coaches are doing, this plan can only work if the players are up for it, and a lot of that battle is mental. The Giants have been an unselfish bunch, viewing days out of the starting lineup as days when they'll be the hero off the bench. They prepare just as hard for those moments as they would for a start.
"It's not easy to be pinch-hit for, but these guys immediately after coming out of the game, they're on the rail rooting for one another and looking for the other guy to get the big hit," Kapler said. "I think with that sort of supportive teammate style, we have our chance to do our best work."
The latest late-game rally pushed the Giants further ahead in the tight NL West race. They've been in first for 13 days, the kind of run that has the clubhouse thinking of what more can be accomplished.
The Giants have a staff that has a different plan for the deep roster every night and communicates it well, and the players have gotten used to executing. For most of the last decade, that's been a formula for success for the Dodgers, who have worn teams down with waves of good at-bats and quality pitches.
Wood, who threw seven dominant innings Monday, was on a few of those Dodgers teams, including last year's World Series champs. He sees some similarities in how the Giants are handling games.
"It's been really fun to see guys kind of own their jobs," Wood said. "Whether it's one at-bat and a pinch-hit that night, or starting the game or coming in and playing the last half, guys are just taking full responsibility for whatever their job is that night.
"Through the good communication and guys owning what their job is for that night, we've been able to get some big hits and have success and play well as a whole. It's just been a lot of great team wins and games so far, and hopefully it'll continue to head that way."