March 23, 2023

Westside People

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Giants’ kicker Michael Conforto is moving out of the way after a 17-month absence

Scottsdale, Arizona. Spring firsts generally aren’t a big deal when you’ve played 750+ games in the big leagues, or when you’ve spent your entire career under the lights in a city like New York, but Michael Conforto couldn’t help but feel that Sunday was a defining moment.

Conforto missed the 2022 MLB season due to shoulder surgery, but he was the designated hitter for the Giants on Sunday, hitting a leadoff lead in the first game of the spring at Scottsdale. This was Conforto’s first appearance in a game since October 3, 2021, and San Francisco beat the Cincinnati Reds 7-6.

“I definitely had some nerves, some butterflies. After the first game, they went away, but it felt like a small start again,” said Conforto. “I’m sure I’ll have those feelings again on Opening Day, but it was so good to be back. It felt so good to be back out there.”

The Giants had all three projected football players in the lineup on Sunday, though not in the normal alignment. Conforto is finishing up his shoulder rehab and will get a DH for the first two weeks of camp, but the Giants fully expect him to be ready to play left field through the opener. Mitch Hanegger is slated to start at right, but he got a few reps left on Sunday. Mike Yastrzemski started at center.

It would be a fresh look for the Giants on the court, a group with great potential. Haniger hit 39 homers in 2021 and Conforto scored at least 27 in three seasons out of 162 games. Yastrzemski is approaching a disappointing year at the plate, but he’s switched up 81 percent of the time and could benefit more than any other Giants from the new rules.

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Conforto said he admires the roster’s depth and would be equally comfortable left or right. Haniger has a lot more experience in the right field, but he’s been working on acceleration in the other corner, too.

“Mitch and I played a lot in the corners. Those spots, they’re very familiar to us,” Conforto said. “I’ve played in both and we’ll see how everything changes in position. If you’re on the right or left, I don’t care – I’ve played a lot of both.”

— A year ago, Alex Cobb showed up at Giants camp with a little more life in his fastball. This spring, another new addition may be taking advantage of a winter spent practicing at Driveline Baseball, a data-driven facility known for getting the most out of its pitchers.

Shawn Mania’s fastball was 93-96 mph in his two innings. He said it was 88-90 mph early in camp last year.

“The pace was great today,” said Maneh. “The general location of things and the secondary pitches weren’t the best, but on a first outing I’d definitely take it.”

Manaea averaged 91.2 mph last season with the San Diego Padres and hit 96 mph only twice. While everyone feels their best at the start of the year, the Giants may have good reason to believe this is somewhat sustainable. Cobb upped Philo last spring and his average fastball speed finished 2.1 mph better in 2022 than it did the previous season.

“He’s obviously in good physical shape,” Kappler said of Al Mana. “He’s lingering in his delivery. Having seen him with San Diego and Oakland, when he’s in the delivery position and he’s healthy and he’s had enough rest, he usually throws really hard. So, it’s no surprise.”

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— Each game seems to bring a new realization to life with new rules. On Sunday, Conforto was pointing out that you can usually take your time as an official, but not with a pitch clock.

“Usually when I’m feeling down, it feels like forever before you get to the plate,” he said. “The game moves fast. It’s fast.”

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– Shaun Hill hit a pair and allowed only one hit in two innings of relief. Then, he did something very rare: He made the 6-foot-5 mane look small. The two brothers are right next to each other at the club, and Minder joked that people can no longer call him Big Sean, because that’s Hailey. So what is an immunizer?

“I think it’s normal Sean now,” he joked.

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