Patrick Bailey

Giants expect Bailey to carry heavy load at catcher in wild-card race

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SAN FRANCISCO -- This is the time of year when teams start to line up their pitching for the final two weeks. The Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers can already map out their playoff rotations, and the teams in the crowded NL wild-card race will work to maximize the remaining starts for their best pitchers. 

The Giants might have more TBAs on their pitching calendar than most, but they do have one. They also have one for their rookie catcher. 

Patrick Bailey came off the concussion IL on Wednesday and started against the Cleveland Guardians, and he's going to carry a heavy load down the stretch. The Giants have just 16 games left, and Bailey will catch just about every one, manager Gabe Kapler said, even though they have just one scheduled day off in the next two weeks.

"We were just looking at the catching calendar through the end of the season and there's a lot of Pat Bailey in there," Kapler said on Wednesday. "I think that's really about, first of all, his durability and physicality and youth, and also a bit of (he got) an overall blow for his body. This is all assuming he doesn't have any concussion symptoms, which we're expecting are completely gone."

Bailey missed the minimum seven days after taking a shot to the head against the Chicago Cubs last week. There are no silver linings to a concussion for a young catcher, but the Giants did at least take some solace in the fact that Bailey was able to let some other bumps and bruises heal. He was feeling pretty much back to normal by the time the Giants returned home from the road trip last Thursday so he got a few days to rest and prepare for the final few weeks.

Wednesday's appearance was Bailey's 85th in the big leagues and his 74th start since he was recalled May 19. Counting brief stints in Double-A and Triple-A, he's up to 113 appearances, easily surpassing his previous high of 83, set last year in High-A. On Thursday's "Giants Talk" podcast, Bailey said the increased workload hasn't been an issue. 

"I've definitely caught the most I've ever caught this year. I'm feeling good," Bailey said. "Obviously the treatment staff, the medical staff, is top-notch here, so they've been keeping me pieced together so far."

For Bailey, the mental breaks -- the times when he can hang out with his wife and daughter, or tend to his fantasy football teams -- might be even more important. The Giants threw a lot at him in May and he quickly gained the trust of the staff, so much so that the veterans put their PitchCom experiments aside and turned all game-calling over to a rookie who should compete for Gold Glove Awards for years to come. Bailey said that particular responsibility "means the world to me."

"That was the biggest priority I had coming up early on, was just gaining the trust of them, whatever that meant," he said. "Whether that was pitch-calling, or more than anything, just they know that I'm doing everything I can to get the best out of them. If me calling the game allows them to not have to think as much and just worry about executing a pitch, then that's great. If they need to think through it and call what they feel, whatever works best is what I'm for."

To lighten the workload a bit, Bailey and catching coach Craig Albernaz have altered his pregame routine. The most noticeable change is right before games, as he has taken the same approach that Buster Posey and Curt Casali previously did, catching just a portion of a pregame bullpen session and letting bullpen catcher Alex Burg handle the rest. 

Posey would catch the start of a pregame session before getting out of the crouch, but Bailey has taken Casali's method, catching the final few minutes of pitches. It's a small change, but a meaningful one given how many pitches some of the starters like to throw as they're warming up.

Bailey was one of four rookies the Giants had in their lineup on Wednesday, and there are seven on the roster at the moment. That's not quite what they expected in April, but the development has allowed the staff a little breathing room in a season defined in part by the endless stream of injuries to veterans. Bailey's concussion marked the only time any of the seven spent time on the big league IL this season. 

"When guys are in their early to mid 20s, it's the right time to push," Kapler said. "Their bodies are pretty strong and physical and bounce back pretty well."

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