February 24, 2024
Bailey, 24, got a rare start in Sunday's day game after Saturday's night game — only a sign of things to come this month.

SAN DIEGO — In baseball, it’s a pretty good bet that the backup backstop will be behind the plate for a day game following a late finish the night before. It’s the most taxing position in the sport, and in the era of load management, there are few guys left who catch everyday, or close to it.

Adley Rutschman, the Orioles’ runner-up for Rookie of the Year last season, and Phillies All-Star J.T. Realmuto are pretty much in a class of their own.

By the end of this month, the Giants hope Patrick Bailey is mentioned in the same conversation.

“We plan to play him as much as he’s physically capable of playing,” manager Gabe Kapler said of Bailey, 24. “I just think he’s physically capable of it. I personally believe the younger players are the ones you can really push this time of year. I think Adley Rutschman (in 2022), he basically caught nonstop down the stretch. I kind of see Pat Bailey in the same mold.”

That started Sunday afternoon, with Bailey behind the plate again barely 16 hours after catching all nine innings the night before. Since Bailey debuted May 19, the Giants have played 92 games, and Bailey has appeared behind the plate in 80 of them, starting 71 and logging 69 full games.

They have 25 games left after Sunday, with just three off days, and the 24-year-old rookie is expected to start most of them.

“It’s September,” Bailey said. “It’s the playoff hunt. …

“This is kind of what you dream of, having a chance in September. Obviously I want to be an everyday guy. Most catchers typically don’t catch every day. But it’s September and we’re in the playoff hunt, so I’m gonna give it all I’ve got.”

Even Rutschman and Realmuto, the position’s few remaining ironmen, received some breathers in their most taxing stretches. Realmuto caught 26 of 29 games last September before the Phillies wrapped up a playoff spot, while Rutschman appeared in 44 straight down the stretch in 2022 but either came off the bench of served as the designated hitter in 12 of them.

Physically, Bailey said, “I haven’t felt good since April or May. But I feel good enough to go everyday.”

That’s the reality of the position, as catching coach Craig Albernaz explains every spring.

“The catching position is so rugged and so tough on your body that literally the only day your feel your best is the first day of spring training and after that it’s a slow downhill slope,” Albernaz said. “You try to mitigate as much of the work and volume and soreness and fatigue as much as you can.”

There are metrics for everything, and the Giants will be paying close attention to Bailey’s bat speed, arm strength and base running. For Bailey, who drops weight during the season, it’s about getting enough calories into his system everyday, in addition to the daily work with strength coach Brad Lawson and the rest of the training staff.

They’ll also try to limit his workload in non-game action such as pregame defensive drills, swings in the batting cage and warming up pitchers between innings.

“Just to find little breathers for him, little pockets for him,” Albernaz said. “At the end of the day, the player knows their body best. Just having those conversations like how are you feeling today, are you tired? And him differentiating between being tired or sore or I’m laboring a little bit. … It’s like, all right Patty, part of your development and also for us what’s best is for you to play everyday. He’s gonna be ready to play.”

One benefit is freeing up Blake Sabol to be more available in the outfield and as a left-handed bat off the bench.

But for Kapler, their reliance on Bailey is just as much a message to the rest of the team.

“If this were an NFL football game, we’d have like 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter,” Kapler said. “When you’re getting that close to the end, it’s all hands on deck. Pat Bailey catching for us today is just a message to our club that we’re going to push hard.”

Of course, the Giants are familiar with a rookie catcher shouldering a heavy load in a playoff push.

Buster Posey caught 30 of the Giants’ final 31 games in 2010 and all 15 of their playoff games on their way to their first World Series in San Francisco.

Posey hit eight home runs in that final month, including a decisive one in Game 162 that clinched the division, on his way to winning Rookie of the Year.

Fairly or not, the comparisons are inevitable.

Bailey has put himself into the conversation for Rookie of the Year and a Gold Glove. Despite arriving in mid-May, he has been the Giants’ second-most valuable position player, with 3.1 Wins Above Replacement. Defensively, he has stolen more strikes and thrown out more base runners than just about anybody since being called up.

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He was behind the plate for Alex Cobb’s near-no-hitter and has caught all eight of the club’s shutouts since his call-up.

The Giants have had 11 players make their major-league debuts this season, and with his unflappable demeanor, Bailey has often made it easy to forget he was one of them.

“That’s one of the reasons why we need him back there,” Cobb said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are probably experiencing this for the first time and his personality doesn’t portray that he’s experiencing it for the first time. Even throughout the no-hitter, he was the calm, cool, collected guy that you need to bounce ideas off of. The same would be for the stretch run and the postseason, calling big pitches and throwing guys out, preventing the running game.

“I hope his body holds up. But I know how he’s going to respond. I think we all do in this clubhouse. That’s why he’s being tasked with that responsibility.”

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