SAN FRANCISCO — Chase d’Arnaud fell about five feet short of heroism.
D’Arnaud began the Giants’ offensive attack with a leadoff home run against the Cubs on Wednesday at AT&T Park. He doubled in the fourth inning, and made a nice defensive play in the sixth, charging to gather Anthony Rizzo’s grounder toward third base and going airborne to throw him out. Then, with one out in the 13th inning of this extended struggle, d’Arnaud met a 96-mile-an-hour fastball from Chicago Cubs reliever James Norwood and launched it to deep left field.
“I thought that might have had a chance,” d’Arnaud said in front of his locker after the game. “I didn’t get it up in the air that high. I wish I’d gotten under it a little more.”
Alas, Chicago’s Ben Zobrist made a final lunge to catch the ball on the warning track. It fell to Buster Posey, three batters later, to knock in the winning run for a 5-4 Giants victory. Posey was a much better bet for late-game glory.
D’Arnaud, in fact, could be the unlikeliest candidate on the Giants’ roster. He’s a lifetime .223 hitter. Wednesday marked his 50th MLB start in eight years. Before teeing off on Cubs starting pitcher Mike Montgomery, d’Arnaud had two career home runs in 503 major-league plate appearances.
Want to talk about bouncing around baseball? Since 2008, he has played for six MLB teams as well as minor-league teams in State College, Pennsylvania; Lynchburg, Virginia; Charleston, West Virginia; Scottsdale, Arizona; Altoona, Pennsylvania; Indianapolis; Bradenton, Florida; Allentown, Pennsylvania; Lawrenceville, Georgia; El Paso, Texas; and Sacramento. And the Dominican Winter League.
“I feel like I’ve gotten lot of opportunities,” d’Arnaud said. “I don’t think I’ve been ready for them. I don’t think I’ve put in the right amount of time to be ready for a season like I did this offseason.”
One thing you should know about Chase d’Arnaud. He’s a very candid person.
It would be easy to describe d’Arnaud’s Wednesday power display as a novelty act — a chance to write about the utility man before Evan Longoria and Joe Panik return from injuries and reassign him to the bench. But d’Arnaud, 31, doesn’t see it that way. He spent the offseason working with hitting coaches in Southern California and is convinced they have helped him to unleash his inner power hitter.
“Before, with other teams I’ve been on, I think they saw me run, and they wanted the approach to be ground balls up the middle,” d’Arnaud said. “And so that’s what I focused on, because I just wanted to be a good little boy and follow instructions. But my brother, who plays for the Mets, has always told me, ‘You’re bigger, faster and stronger than me. You should have more power than me.’”
Travis d’Arnaud, a catcher who is two years younger than Chase, has 47 career homers.
It’s unlikely that the Giants expected a ton of production from Chase when they signed him last December. He just didn’t have that kind of pedigree. What appealed to the team was his ability to play virtually any position on the field other than pitcher and catcher.
I asked d’Arnaud about this versatility, and whether he had intentionally cultivated it. “It was unintentional,” he said.
D’Arnaud elaborated: “In 2014 with the Pirates, I was coming off a bad season, and it kind of humbled me a little bit. They didn’t have a spot for me in the infield in Triple A. So I started off playing in the outfield. It was my first taste of outfield since I was 9 years old. And then I did well offensively, and when I went back to a starting role, I starting playing center field for the entire season. I love the outfield.”