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Why Giants added veterans Encarnación, McKenna to outfield group

Why Giants added veterans Encarnación, McKenna to outfield group originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants lost three veteran outfielders to injuries in three days at the start of a long homestand, but as they head back out on the road, the outfield is the least of their problems.

Luis Matos is the hottest hitter in baseball and earned the NL Player of the Week award after he spent his weekend tying or breaking franchise records. Heliot Ramos is batting .293 since being recalled and looks poised to finally stick at the big league level. After a slow start to his year, Mike Yastrzemski continues to look like his old self, and he has four multi-hit games in the last five.

The outfield is red-hot and Michael Conforto isn't far from returning from a hamstring strain, but the Giants still made a couple of moves in recent days to add depth. They agreed to a minor league deal with Jerar Encarnación, who was tearing up the Mexican League, and then made a waiver claim for Ryan McKenna, who had been DFA'd by the Baltimore Orioles.

The front office hasn't been as active on the waiver wire this season, but the McKenna addition was right up their alley. The Giants had an extra 40-man roster spot to play with after Jung Hoo Lee got hurt, so McKenna was added to the organization, with Lee going on the 60-day IL ahead of season-ending shoulder surgery. McKenna has played 291 games over parts of four MLB seasons, posting a .224/.302/.332 slash line with eight homers. He is a good baserunner and defender who can handle all three outfield spots.

"I've seen him play a little bit with the Orioles," manager Bob Melvin said. "He's got some versatility, (can play) all three positions. We've got some guys doing pretty well now here, too. We'll see where we go with that one, but any time you can add some depth and a guy that's a good defender in all three of those spots -- we still have some guys on the IL -- it just adds to our depth."

McKenna is out of options and the Giants sent Tyler Fitzgerald back to Triple-A before boarding a flight to Pittsburgh, so it seems likely McKenna is activated Tuesday to give the bench more experience. He also provides insurance while the Giants wait for Conforto and Austin Slater (concussion) to get healthy.

Encarnación could wind up being a more realistic option in the second half, and for now he'll head to Triple-A to see if he can build off what was a remarkable start to his season in Mexico. In 26 games for Guerreros de Oaxaca, Encarnación hit 19 homers. It's not a very competitive league compared to MLB, but the 26-year-old was homering about once every five at-bats.

"If you hit 19 homers in (26) games anywhere, that's pretty good. Even if you do it in my backyard playing wiffle ball, I'd be impressed," president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said.

Encarnación played 23 big league games for the Miami Marlins in 2022, batting just .182 with three homers. But the Giants liked his minor league profile and pursued him in the offseason.

They certainly don't need him at the big league level right now, but all of the call-ups left the Triple-A roster short on position players and reasonable outfield options. Encarnacion will get a shot to show that this hot streak is real, and if he can hit the ground running, he could become the top depth option in the minors now that Matos, Ramos and others are in the big leagues.

The Giants are doing just fine in the outfield right now and hope to be much healthier by the end of the month. But they know that the early May wave of injuries won't be the last one to hit the roster.

"We just want to get him in the organization, get him to Sacramento, and we'll go from there," Zaidi said of Encarnación. "But obviously there's opportunity if he can continue to do what he did in Mexico."

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