Connor Joe finds support system in Giants clubhouse during hitless start


SAN FRANCISCO -- The first bus was leaving for the hotel in 10 minutes, but Gerardo Parra headed in the opposite direction. 

As Giants players filed past late Tuesday night, their faces wearing a comeback attempt that ended with a double play, Parra got up from his chair and slipped into one alongside Connor Joe’s locker. He leaned back and patted Joe’s chair, and the two began a long conversation. 

A few hours later, Joe walked into the batting cage in the visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium and met his newest teammate. Kevin Pillar’s head was swimming. He was coming off one of the most emotional days of his career and was quickly preparing himself to start in center field for the Giants for the first time, in his hometown, no less.

But Pillar had soaked up enough in his first 24 hours with the organization to know what he wanted to say in his first conversation with a 26-year-old trying to break through in the major leagues. He told Joe that he had been there, and not just as a rookie. Pillar pointed out that he had one hit in 16 at-bats before the Toronto Blue Jays sent him across the continent. 

This has been a steady theme in Joe’s short time in the majors. He has been a Giant for just two weeks, but he already feels part of the clubhouse. If any veterans were disappointed by president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi’s decision to go with two unproven corner outfielders on Opening Day, they did not let it show in their interactions with the players themselves.

On the first day of the Bay Bridge Series, Pablo Sandoval — who nearly lost his job to Joe — stopped the utility player after batting practice and loudly told him he took some good hacks. One day later, a couple of veterans sent a team employee up the dugout steps and asked him to bring Joe back into the cage. Joe hustled back down, a serious look on his face, only to find that he wasn’t late or in trouble.

“We just wanted to know if you smile,” a teammate cracked.

Joe said this has all allowed him to settle in. He is hitless in his first 14 big league at-bats but has found himself helped by a steady stream of longtime big leaguers who have their own horror stories. Evan Longoria was a recent teacher, pointing out that he started his Giants career 0-for-17 and heard boos. 

“There are a lot of veterans in this room who have a lot of experience, and for them to reach out to me at this time and during this opportunity is huge for me,” Joe said Wednesday. “It shows that they care a lot about me and they want the best for me and the best for the team.”

The message has been the same from most players: This only feels like a big deal because the slump is coming at the start of the season.

“It’s only magnified because it’s the beginning of the year,” Joe said. “I’m aware of it. No doubt there are people out there that are going to be critics and stuff like that, but I can’t tell you how many times I went on streaks of 10 or 15 at-bats (in the minors) where nothing goes your way, right? And then you have streaks of 15 at-bats where you’re not making solid contact and you get 10 hits.

“It’s crazy, but it’s baseball. Absolutely everything is magnified a little bit because it’s the beginning of the year, but once I get settled in and stick to the process and what I do best, things are going to fall into place and I’ll be able to make an impact and help this team win some games, for sure.”

Being patient will be even more important for Joe as he settles in at Oracle Park for the first time. The acquisition of Pillar solidified the outfield, and Joe will have a hard time finding starts for now, with Pillar, Steven Duggar and Gerardo Parra in the outfield and Sandoval and Yangervis Solarte soaking up other opportunities.

There’s a tricky balance for manager Bruce Bochy. Zaidi believes in Joe’s talent and is trying to discover a San Francisco version of Chris Taylor, but the Giants also are trying to find offensive answers.

“Your play dictates how much you play,” Bochy said. “In the early going, he’s trying to get his timing, but we need offense right now. He’ll settle down and get acclimated.”

This all would have been a lot easier if Joe had benefited from an ounce of luck over his first week. At times, he has looked cautious at the plate, but when he has put balls in play, a third of them have qualified as hard-hit balls, per Baseball Savant. Joe smiled as he talked of one liner up the middle that found a glove. The Dodgers, who had him last year, knew exactly how to shift a player with a handful of big league at-bats. 

As Zaidi watched all this, it did not take him long to determine that he could not try to be competitive with two projects in the corners. Michael Reed was designated for assignment to clear a spot for Pillar, but Joe appears safe for now. Zaidi believes the .408 on-base percentage and 17 homers in the minors last year are a sign of things to come, and while Joe doesn’t have a batting average, he also has not looked completely overwhelmed. 

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Bochy met with Reed twice before he was let go, but he said he has not yet called Joe into the office. As he talked of the need to help a rookie settle in, Bochy looked like a proud father. 

“I’ve been watching,” he said, a twinkle in his eye. “Guys are doing a great job with him.”

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