SAN FRANCISCO — One of the draws for Mitch Haniger when he signed with the Giants this past winter was the chance to play for his hometown team.
One problem: Four months into his tenure, he hasn’t played very much.
That should change soon, as Haniger said Tuesday the goal is to begin a rehab assignment next week. He won’t accompany the team on its upcoming six-game swing to the East Coast, but could be ready to play his first game since June 13 not long after they get back.
Haniger spoke to the Bay Area News Group after taking live batting practice on the field for a second straight day, exactly nine weeks after he was hit the forearm with an errant Jack Flaherty fastball, derailing his time with the Giants before it got a chance to get started.
“It’s definitely difficult,” Haniger said of his time away. “I don’t like spending time on the IL and being hurt. You feel like you’re not able to do your job and perform for your teammates. The goal here is to win, and I know I can help us win. Not being able to contribute is frustrating, but at the same time I’ve just gotta keep putting in the work and come back stronger and focus on what lies ahead.”
The Giants will play their 121st game of the season when they open their road trip Friday in Atlanta, and the two free agent outfielders they invested $79.5 million in this past winter have shared the lineup 31 times.
Haniger, their highest-priced addition, arrived with a reputation for struggling to stay on the field. Fair? Well, when breaking an arm on a hit-by-pitch isn’t the even the flukiest of his ailments, maybe not. In Seattle, he ruptured a testicle on a foul ball, sprained his ankle running out of the batter’s box and suffered a sports hernia that went undiagnosed for months.
“At the same time I have been on the IL a lot,” Haniger said. “People can characterize me however they want. I don’t really care. I just put in the work and try to get better everyday. I know I’m a great player and I’ll do everything in my power to stay on the field and prepare my body and mind to be ready to play.”
Wilmer Flores, Haniger’s locker neighbor, understands the difficulty of getting hurt soon after joining a new team. He signed with the Diamondbacks in 2019 and fractured his foot in May, knocking him out for two months.
“That kind of sucked. It gets tiring everyday. It’s the same thing. You don’t know when you’re going to come back. It’s tough,” Flores said. “But he’s handled it well. He’s a pro. When I came back, I was still a little hurt. I just wanted to play. I’m sure he feels the same way.”
It’s been even more of a gut-punch for Haniger, who grew up in Santa Clara dreaming of playing for the Giants one day.
But he’s come away impressed with his experience, even while dealing with the familiar drum beat of rehabilitation.
“When I was a free agent, I’d heard about all the great things about playing for the Giants, and so far everything has lived up to it and exceeded it,” he said. “Just how they take care of you as a player and your family, it’s not like that all around the league. They make that a priority here, and I think it speaks volumes about this organization and the people here. …
“I loved growing up in the Bay Area. It was always a dream to be a Giant, so it’s cool to put on the jersey. It makes it all the more special. I definitely want to come back and win for this city. That’s the goal.”
Haniger is making $5 million this season after receiving a $6 million signing bonus but his salary jumps to $17 million in 2024 before he has the ability to opt out after that season, or opt in at a rate of $15.5 million.
He’s been able to provide some value even while out. Flores said he will pick Haniger’s mind about upcoming pitchers.
“I mean, he’s just one of those guys. Perfect for the clubhouse,” Flores said. “I like his prep before games. He’s very prepared when he goes out there. I always ask him about pitchers and what they’ve got, how I should approach this thing, stuff like that. If I haven’t faced a pitcher in the past, I’ll approach him.”
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At the time of Haniger’s injury the Giants were in the midst of a 10-game winning streak that ran their record from 32-32 to 42-32. They climbed as far as 13 games above .500 in his absence but a prolonged offensive skid has them barely better than when Haniger hit the shelf.
Despite Haniger carrying a .230/.281/.372 batting line before his injury, well below league average and his career marks, the Giants ranked in the top 10 in the majors in runs scored, home runs, OPS and wRC+. They have since dropped off a cliff: last in OPS (.652), second-to-last in homers (49) and wRC+ (80), and fifth-to-last in runs (219).
“It will probably come as no surprise that some of these things will keep you up (at night), and I’ve spent some time figuring out how we are successful going forward, and the one thing that I kept coming back to is staying healthy,” manager Gabe Kapler said recently. “If you give us our full group — you give us that group and you run that group out there for the rest of the season, we’re going to score a lot of runs.”