SF Giants-D’backs: Jung Hoo Lee’s hot start continues with first homer; Luciano’s first impression not so strong

SF Giants-D’backs: Jung Hoo Lee’s hot start continues with first homer; Luciano’s first impression not so strong

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When the Giants began spring training, manager Bob Melvin said nothing would be handed to Marco Luciano, their top position-player prospect and presumed shortstop-in-waiting, and the 22-year-old didn’t make the best first impression.

Delayed by a tight hamstring, Luciano debuted behind Logan Webb on Thursday, meaning he would quickly be put to the test with the majors’ top ground-ball pitcher on the mound. Given an opportunity to get his pitcher out of a long first inning, Luciano threw wide of first base, prolonging the frame and allowing a run to score.

“We lost the game because we had two situational at-bats where we didn’t get a run in and (Luciano) threw a ball away and made an error,” a frustrated Melvin said after the 2-1 exhibition loss to the D’backs. “The score would look completely different if we don’t throw a ball away and in the two situational at-bats, we get a run in. But it looked like he was more comfortable after that first inning.”

The Giants (0-4-2) have played six Cactus League contests and have yet to win any of them.

As much as Melvin would like to notch his first win, spring results don’t matter nearly as much as individual evaluations.

But, in case there was any question, “one game doesn’t impact anybody’s standing,” Melvin clarified after a difficult debut for their heralded shortstop.

One game is a small sample, but Luciano was provided many opportunities to showcase his defensive ability behind Webb.

With one run already in and a runner on third with one out in the first, Luciano lined up on the cut of the infield grass and cleanly picked a sharp chopper off the bat of Christian Walker. He checked Jake McCarthy back to third, then fired to first for the second out.

That should have been the most precarious point of the inning, and Webb should have walked off with only one run allowed. He induced a routine grounder to short from Geraldo Perdomo, but Luciano’s throw pulled David Villar off the bag at first base, allowing Perdomo to take second and McCarthy to score.

“I know he wasn’t too happy about that one play,” said Webb, who threw about 40 pitches over three innings, recording a pair of strikeouts. “But he’s a physical specimen. He’s always going to go out there and do his best. It was just exciting to see him back out there.”

Luciano declined an interview request through a club employee, who said he risked a fine if he missed the team bus.

Perhaps Luciano’s top competition for the shortstop job, Nick Ahmed, is slated to make his Cactus League debut Friday against the Rangers. A two-time Gold Glove winner, Ahmed’s defense isn’t in question, but he will be looking to prove there’s still gas in the tank after being released by the D’backs last September.

“He’s here for a reason,” Melvin said. “We’ve talked about improving our infield defense. He’ll be right in the middle of it. It’ll be a great competition for Marco. Nothing’s given to anybody. It’s about performance.”

Lee’s first homer

The Giants’ lone run came courtesy of Jung Hoo Lee, who continued to impress in his second game of the spring.

Leading off against Ryne Nelson, Lee whacked a low off-speed offering over the head of McCarthy in right and to the warning track, easily chugging into second base for a double. After being stranded on third, he one-upped himself in his next trip to the plate.

Challenged by a 94 mph fastball, Lee turned it around and sent a missile, clocked at 109.7 mph off the bat, just over the wall and onto the berm in right field, an estimated 418 feet from home plate. Lee rounded the bases nearly as quickly, timed at a tick over 4 seconds from home to first, according to Melvin.

“He’s gotten off to a nice, little start, hasn’t he?” Melvin said. “Fastballs, breaking balls — seems like he’s on everything.”

Here it is: Jung Hoo Lee’s first home run in an #SFGiants uniform

이정후 pic.twitter.com/rUdtLhGzlM

— SFGiants (@SFGiants) February 29, 2024

Nelson said he came into the game with no scouting report on Lee, but after facing him twice, “I know now he’s a pretty good hitter.”

The biggest adjustment, Lee said through interpreter Justin Han, wasn’t the velocity but the release point of Nelson, who stand 6-foot-3.

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“Velocity is velocity. But the pitchers here in the major leagues, they’re really tall. Also their release point is really high,” Lee said. “That makes it look like the ball is faster. And then they have a different kind of movement, they travel really differently. So what I’ve been doing all winter is working with (pitching machines that mimic that release point). So I’m happy it’s coming out as results.”

For the first time, Lee lined up in center field behind Webb, giving him a new perspective on the team’s ace.

His takeaway wasn’t so different from many an outfielder to play behind Webb.

“Now I know that when Logan Webb is pitching,” Lee said, “it’s going to be an easy day for me.”