Giants’ Crawford credits big year to ample rest and recovery
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Brandon Crawford made a diving lunge to his left to stop a sharp grounder by Dominic Smith of the Mets, then flipped the ball to Kris Bryant at second base as the shortstop’s momentum kept him rolling in the dirt for the force out, preserving a 1-1 game in the ninth inning of an eventual extra-innings loss.
On Ketel Marte’s bouncing grounder leading off the game Thursday against Arizona, Crawford scurried some 15 feet to his left then made a spinning throw to first while on the run for the out.
Such spectacular plays have been Crawford’s signature all season long at age 34 to help the Giants win the NL West, the same defense that has defined him while winning three Gold Glove awards.
And it’s not by accident. Manager Gabe Kapler made a point to rest all his regulars throughout the season so they would still be at their best come September — and, now, October for the playoff-bound, 107-win Giants.
“I don’t know that it’s the best I’ve felt but I’m fresh enough to be able to go out there and keep playing every day here down the stretch,” Crawford said before the final regular-season series with San Diego. “Between the training staff and some work that I put in this past offseason kind of prepared me for this along with Kap doing a really good job of trying to keep us fresh throughout the year.”
Crawford largely credits one of his best seasons yet to taking advantage of those occasional days off even when he might not have realized at the time he would be better for having taken a short break.
In fact, with a new contract in hand, Crawford watched the Giants from the home dugout when they played Colorado on Aug. 13. He had just received a new $32 million deal that takes him through 2023.
“I think it’s helped me a lot. It hasn’t been a lot of days off necessarily but I think we’ve done a good job of communicating and finding a good spot to get days off,” Crawford said. “Even though I feel fine, there have been years in the past where I feel fine and then I end up playing 25 games in a row or something and then I kind of start breaking down.”
Kapler regularly communicates with his players about giving them days off, even if it means sitting someone for a day who is on a hot streak at the plate.
Infielder Tommy La Stella, another Giants 30-something, certainly appreciates that approach.
“More recently there’s been a lot of focus on recovery, sleep specifically, and how that leads to enhanced performance and flip side of that ... how detrimental it can be for your health performance,” La Stella said. “Every guy’s different. It’s all based on the individual and what he feels like he needs as far as repetitions, but you’re always trying to ride that line of getting all the reps you need to feel prepared but also getting enough recovery that you’re able to go out there night in and night out.”
Crawford batted .298 and finished the regular season with career highs of 24 home runs and 90 RBIs — the most runs driven in by a Giants player since Buster Posey’s 95 in 2015 — and 12 of those being game-winners. He had the top batting average in the majors since July 1 with a minimum 200 plate appearances at .344.
Crawford has earned himself a spot in the NL MVP conversation, too.
“He carried our team when we needed him the most,” teammate Mike Yastrzemski said.
Just being able to take a mental day from the intense concentration of baseball preparation means a lot, according to Kapler.
“What I would like for us to create for these guys is a schedule, something that feels a little bit dependable where they can get regular rest,” he said. “That’s all in an effort to preserve their energy going forward. The one thing that I think can really derail a team, I’m not saying our team, I’m really not saying anything specific to our club, but can derail a team is major injuries, and players are thrust into action that shouldn’t be thrust into action. ... It’s just going to be a major point of emphasis for us. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be perfect at it but we’re going to try our best to put these guys in a position to be successful and healthy.”
For Crawford, it has meant so much.
“It’s been big for me to get these scheduled days off,” he said, “to keep everything relatively healthy.”
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