Giants Notes: Johnson continues to 'cause havoc' on bases


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- With one out in the bottom of the fourth inning Wednesday, Bryce Johnson hit a grounder that would have been an inning-ending double play for most. The speediest player left in camp easily beat out the back end and then went to work. 

Johnson stole second to get into scoring position for Joey Bart, then scored when Bart hit an infield single to short and the throw to first briefly got away from Texas Rangers first baseman Brad Miller. It went down as yet another manufactured run for a young player trying to force his way into the Opening Day picture.

Johnson later doubled home a run and finished the day with a .353 average and .881 spring OPS. He's a perfect 12 for 12 on the bases and should pretty easily finish as the stolen base leader in Arizona and Florida this spring. Colorado's Zac Veen (eight) is the only other player with more than six stolen bases. 

Johnson isn't surprised by the gap or the sheer number of steals. In his player meeting with manager Gabe Kapler at the start of camp, he told his manager that he was "100 percent going every time" he reached base. 

"The word I've been using is 'menace,'" Johnson said. "I'm just trying to cause havoc."

The Giants could use a little more of that, and Johnson has helped lead a bit of a renaissance at Scottsdale Stadium. The Giants have five more stolen bases than any other club this spring and have been aggressive in pursuing extra bases on hits and forcing the issue. While a lot of that has to do with the new rules limiting pickoff throws and shortening the distance between bases, Johnson said his plan long before MLB changed things up was to push the pace.

"He's just kind of causing havoc for pitchers. You can tell that they're speeding themselves up, they're just very uncomfortable with him out there and it's great for him to get that reputation," Kapler said. "It's not like one of those things where you want to be like, 'Oh, let's use this sneak attack.' That advantage goes away really quickly. We want teams to see him as a base-stealing threat and a challenge to contain on the bases and he's been that all the way through camp."

The 27-year-old got a cup of coffee last season after a strong run in Triple-A, but he went just 2 for 18 in the big leagues with seven strikeouts, failing to hit enough to truly show off his speed. Johnson said he "felt a little antsy" in those initial at-bats last season, but he has calmed down at the plate this spring. 

Johnson cleared waivers in November and was outrighted to the Triple-A roster, but the big spring has him back on the radar, and it certainly helps that he's the best defensive center fielder in camp. 

With Austin Slater (hamstring) and Mitch Haniger (oblique) both sidelined, the Giants likely will need outfield help at the start of the season and could have as many as three 40-man roster spots to play with since Luis Gonzalez (back surgery), Thomas Szapucki (arm neuropathy) and Luke Jackson (Tommy John rehab) all are likely to be placed on the 60-day IL. With a week left until they have to set their roster, Johnson might be sprinting his way onto that flight to New York.

"He's had a really nice camp," Kapler said. 

--- Ross Stripling threw 4 2/3 shutout innings, but that wasn't the highlight of the day for his family. Jane Jones, Stripling's great-aunt, threw out the ceremonial first pitch and drew some laughs from the crowd as she slowly walked all the way out to the mound and dramatically raised her arms over her head for an old-school delivery. 

Stripling said his great-aunt is in her early 90s and comes to visit every year during spring training. A family member set up the first pitch, but ran into a slight problem. Because Stripling was the starter, he couldn't come out to catch the first pitch. He took a break from warming up to watch through the chain link fence separating the bullpen from the field. 

"I can't break away at 12:55 to catch the first pitch, especially if you're going to milk it out there Jane," Stripling said, laughing. 

Stripling didn't get a chance to catch up with his family before the game but planned to see his great-aunt afterward. 

"It was fun," he said. "I'm excited to see her."

RELATED: Kapler: Starting staff 'most encouraging' part of Giants camp

--- Stripling currently is lined up to pitch the second Bay Bridge Series game at Oracle Park next Monday. The Giants are being coy about their full rotation plans, but that would allow him to start the third game of the season at Yankee Stadium on an extra day of rest. That also means Stripling will help set the stage for the final appearance for Sergio Romo, who was one of his teammates in both Los Angeles and Toronto. 

--- Brandon Crawford returned to the lineup after missing time with knee discomfort. At this point, the Giants have little doubt that he'll be fully ready by their opener. Crawford will go back-to-back on Thursday when he starts at DH.

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