Shohei Ohtani hits a sublime home run and Giants’ injury issues become ridiculous

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants were invaded and conquered by a blue-shirted horde in their own ballpark for the second consecutive night, they got discouraging news from the MRI chamber about Jung Hoo Lee, they placed catcher Patrick Bailey back on the concussion list, they watched yet another player walk off the field escorted by head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner, and they craned their necks as Shohei Ohtani hit a towering, 446-foot home run in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 10-2 victory Tuesday night.

Just about the only positive was this: no rally pelicans were harmed by Ohtani’s blast.

Now if only the Giants could do something about their gathering flock of albatrosses.

Right-hander Keaton Winn is likely to become their eighth player in 10 days to hit the injured list after experiencing right forearm tightness in the fifth inning. He described the discomfort as feeling more like a muscle cramp and less like the elbow pain that caused him to miss part of last season and cropped up again in the spring. But the situation is ominous enough. He’s headed for an MRI exam and will be reevaluated.

Along with everyone else, it seems. It’s gotten to the point where the fire marshal might object to the number of bodies populating the trainer’s room. Giants manager Bob Melvin exhaled deeply during an encyclopedic pregame media session as the questions pinged from one hurt guy to the next. Michael Conforto? Not doing baseball activities yet. Austin Slater? Not doing baseball activities yet. Jorge Soler? Well …

It doesn’t get more star-crossed than this: Soler took batting practice on the field Tuesday afternoon for the first time since a sore shoulder sent him to the injured list. He popped up a ball that hit off the top of the cage. And the ricochet came back to smack him just above the eye.

A stunned Soler hunched over as Melvin and trainer L.J. Petra attended to him, then whisked him back to the clubhouse, where thankfully, it was determined that he was OK. But it’s reached the point of ridiculousness. When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy threw a ceremonial first pitch, and left-hander Kyle Harrison whiffed his attempt at catching it, it’s a miracle that the ball didn’t smoke somebody standing in foul territory.

The Giants should start getting some of their injured players back soon. Soler will head to Triple-A Sacramento to get a handful of at-bats and is likely to be activated at some point during or before this weekend’s home series against the Colorado Rockies. Left-hander Blake Snell is scheduled for a final rehab start Friday in Sacramento and would fold back into the rotation early next week, leaving the club with one game to cover Sunday, assuming Winn cannot take the ball.

But Bailey will be a while longer after trainers determined that the Giants couldn’t risk putting him behind the plate with anything less than a clear head. The switch-hitting catcher played one game on Saturday after coming off the concussion list, then experienced more symptoms that might have been exacerbated by a head cold. His stabilizing defense is so important that the Giants played a man short for three games in the hope that Bailey could return to catching duties. Now he’ll sit out until Sunday at the earliest.

Given how this run of injuries has gone, “at the earliest” might as well be coded to mean “in their wildest dreams.”

The most distressing injury, of course, is the dislocated left shoulder that Lee sustained when crashing into the outfield fence Sunday. An MRI exam showed “structural damage” in the shoulder, according to an unsurprising and sparsely worded club announcement, and Lee will travel to Los Angeles to get a second opinion on Thursday from noted orthopedist Dr. Neal ElAttrache. Although the club’s statement did not describe the initial opinion from team orthopedist Dr. Ken Akizuki, surgical intervention is all but assured at this point. Because Lee’s injury is to his non-throwing shoulder, it’s possible that he could play again this season if he undergoes something resembling a moderate labrum repair. But every expectation is that he’ll be out for several months at a minimum.

“He wants to be out there,” Melvin said of Lee. “It’s a new team, he has a fan base that’s embracing him, he loves playing here. So it’s hard on him.”

The Giants had been encouraged by Lee’s learning curve at the plate but his absence in two games against the Dodgers has been felt most acutely in center field, where Luis Matos hasn’t displayed much improvement from last year’s lack of range and questionable instincts. Matos committed a three-base error in the first inning when he checked both the wall and the location of left fielder Heliot Ramos, then couldn’t find the baseball when he looked up again.

Given Matos’ shortcomings, it’s probably a matter of time before the Giants move Mike Yastrzemski to center field, although that’s not a move that Melvin prefers to make.

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Giants left fielder Heliot Ramos and center fielder Luis Matos were unable to control the ball in the first inning against the Dodgers. (Kelley L Cox / USA Today)

“Right field is way tougher to play,” Melvin said before Tuesday’s game. “It’s only 391 (feet) in center field now. What we hear is (Matos) goes back better than he comes in. So we have to configure the best place to play him. Right field is very difficult and Yaz plays it as well as anybody. We can move him around in-game but he’s too good of a right fielder to move, for me.

“It is what it is. We’re going to give Matos a shot to play a lot of games.”

The Giants weren’t a team ablaze before this run of injuries. They kept their position player A-team together for more than six weeks yet traversed more than 20 percent of their season without putting together a winning streak longer than two games. But they managed to establish a few encouraging strengths along the way, including impressive up-the-middle stability with Bailey behind the plate and Lee making highlight plays in center. Now that stability is nonexistent and opposing runners are taking advantage of Blake Sabol, who made his second weak, wild and non-competitive throw to second base in a three-game span.

Unlike Monday’s outcome, when the Giants were undone by the kinds of small mistakes that become conspicuous following an extra-inning loss, they were little more than a speed bump Tuesday while falling to 0-5 against the Dodgers this season.

“There’s a lot of turnover at this point and we don’t have our main guys out there, but we’ve got to keep fighting and not let it crater a little bit,” Melvin said. “We’ve got to hang in there and win some games and start getting some guys back.”

Even if the Giants get somewhat nearer to full strength, it’s difficult to imagine a series against the Dodgers as a fair fight. Ohtani’s home run leading off the fourth inning soared past the deepest part of right-center field and into the walkway behind the arcade. A half-dozen reporters from Japanese media outlets immediately scrambled out of the press box to find the fan who retrieved the ball. Ohtani’s home run was the longest hit in the ballpark in two years. It’s been three years (Slater in May, 2021) since any Giant hit a home run that traveled farther.

For the better part of the first decade of this ballpark’s existence, the Giants employed the only slugger in the major leagues who could shrink its confines, who sent reporters scurrying into the stands to interview souvenir-clutching fans, and who turned every plate appearance into a breathless event. But the Giants had their time with Barry Bonds. He is long gone. Now the fans creating the strobe of flashbulbs are clad in blue and have strength in numbers.

Ohtani will have one more game in this series to take aim at McCovey Cove and hit his first splash home run. Pity anything with feathers that strays into his path.

(Top photo of Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani being congratulated after his home run: Kelley L Cox / USA Today)

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