Several reasons why Joc has been perfect fit for Giants originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
WASHINGTON D.C. -- Gabe Kapler was the director of player development for the Los Angeles Dodgers when Joc Pederson was breaking into the big leagues, and he worked for the organization as Pederson established himself as one of the most dangerous left-handed hitters in the game early on in his career.
Kapler knows all that Pederson brings to a lineup and clubhouse, which includes, as Kapler put it Sunday, quite a bit of flare. This season, there's the blonde mohawk, the stutter-steps as he approaches the bag on his home run trot, and the way he watches balls soar off his bat. In Atlanta, Pederson became well known for wearing a string of pearls around his neck.
But through his first month with Pederson in his lineup, Kapler has focused on something else. He said Pederson's personality in the dugout is different from what he expected.
"It's very calm. Very calm. Very stoic, very focused," Kapler said. "I've known Joc for a really long time but I haven't really seen him in the dugout for a really long time, so this is, it's really pleasant. He's really locked in throughout the game, not too high, not too low."
In that respect, Pederson has been the perfect fit in a clubhouse that never seems to waver in chasing the ultimate goal. He is also a perfect fit for the lineup.
Pederson has hit in the heart of the order all year, but with Mike Yastrzemski on the COVID-19 list, he stepped in as the leadoff hitter and crushed the fourth pitch of a 12-3 win over the Washington Nationals out of the yard. Later, Pederson added a second homer. He also had a double that came off his bat at 111 mph.
"I think he set the tone for the day," Kapler said. "I think he's really picking good pitches to go after and I think even when he gets deeper into counts and pitchers have velocity, he's able to catch up to that velocity. That's a good sign. His bat speed is there. His rhythm is there. I think he's getting more and more confident."
The homers were the highlights as the Giants piled up 15 hits and finished off their first sweep in the nation's capital since 2008. But it was something Pederson did off the field that might have been more impressive.
Pederson signed a one-year, $6 million contract that thus far looks like a steal, and this fall he will head back out onto the open market, unless the Giants keep that from happening. He should have a vested interest in piling up numbers, particularly against bad teams, but when Kapler pulled his usual move and inserted the right-handed-hitting Austin Slater for Pederson to lead off the ninth, he didn't blink.
Pederson said later that there was no reason to question the move, even if he did already have three hits. The Nationals had a lefty on the mound and at the time the lead was only three runs.
"It's a better matchup offensively and Slater is better on defense, so up by three you try to get a rally going to save your bullpen," he said. "And that's what we did and we didn't have to use a closer late in the game. I think that's really smart. It's a common goal of wanting to do whatever we can to win the World Series."
In that moment, it became so clear why "Joctober" has been a key part of so many teams that have gone deep into October, including the last two World Series champions. Slater grounded out, but the Giants would go on to score six runs in the inning, with Slater coming up a second time and driving in the final two runs. Co-closer Jake McGee had been warming up but he sat down halfway through the inning.
Kapler had a conversation with Pederson about the move he was about to make and said his new outfielder "embodies a lot of characteristics of the team we had last year." This is just part of the deal in San Francisco. The Giants always play the right matchup, even if sometimes that might pull a red-hot bat off the field.
Pederson didn't mind, and Kapler said he has been on board with the plan since the very beginning. He added that there will be times when he lets Pederson stay in to face lefties, but for now what the Giants are doing is once again working.
They improved to 11-5 with their second sweep of the longest road trip of the year. As they boarded a flight to Milwaukee, they ranked third in the Majors in runs. They have yet to get a single at-bat from LaMonte Wade Jr., Evan Longoria or Tommy La Stella, but they're once again rolling, and the offseason's only big lineup addition is right in the middle of it.
Pederson gave way to Slater with a .364 batting average and five homers. That's just another way he has been the right fit for the Giants, who could use Pederson's power and flare on the field, but have appreciated his commitment behind the scenes.
"I think there are times on the field when you express yourself -- I like to have fun -- and at the same time do everything you can to win a ballgame and help the team win," Pederson said. "There's definitely a serious factor that you need to take in there."