Hunter Bishop is finally healthy

Hunter Bishop is finally healthy

PHOENIX — In these early days of spring, hitters salivate over the opportunity to get live hacks against real pitching. No machine or batting practice tosser can replicate the real thing. So you can imagine how difficult it was for Hunter Bishop to keep the bat on his shoulders for every one of the first four offerings he saw on Tuesday.

Normally, Bishop would take first base. But this being a simulated game played amongst Giants minor leaguers, while their peers on the 40-man roster remain locked out, Bishop strolled back to the dugout, knowing he had done well by one of his goals for this spring but still seeingthing over the missed opportunity.

“What do you want me to do?” Bishop bemoaned, to nobody in particular, as he walked back to the dugout.

“If you wanna get paid, you’ve gotta swing the bat, son,” razed an onlooker.

But here’s the thing: plate discipline is a focus this spring for Bishop, who stepped into the box only 56 times last year and struck out in almost half of them. There were simply not many good pitches to be gotten Tuesday. His next and last plate appearance started the same way — two good takes — but after running the count full, Bishop chased a breaking ball in the dirt and struck out.

“Cut the strikeout rate down,” Bishop said. “Put a lot more balls in play.”

It wasn’t only Tuesday. Bishop hasn’t had many chances, period, since being drafted by the Giants 10th overall in 2019.

When the Giants selected Bishop out of Arizona State, they saw a local kid — a dual-sport star at San Mateo’s Serra High, the alma mater of Barry Bonds — who projected as a potential 30-homer, 30-steal player and could stick in centerfield. But that trajectory was derailed first by the COVID-19 pandemic, shutting down minor league baseball, and then by injury.

At 23 years old, entering his fourth professional season, Bishop has seen just 150 minor-league at-bats.

“He needs the at bats,” said Pat Burrell, San Francisco’s roving minor league hitting instructor. “We’ve got a ton of belief in him. Injuries are part of it, of course. You just try to find ways to keep him on the field. Because when you go out there for a full season and you get the at bats, you learn a lot about yourself, let alone what we’re saying. He just needs to go through it, get the experience.”

It took three months for Bishop to record No. 118 after he swung so hard on No. 117 last May, three games into High-A Eugene’s season, that he strained his left shoulder. The injury did not require surgery, but it forced Bishop into the rehab room for the majority of what would have been his first full professional season.

The stakes this season, then, must be tremendous, right?

At a certain age, a prospect stops being a prospect and turns into a minor leaguer.

“I think if I can just play my game and be able to stay healthy on the field I’ll be just fine,” Bishop said. “I would say no pressure, just take it day by day.”

Today, Bishop says his arm “hasn’t felt this good in a long time.” It wasn’t until the Fall League last year that his arm was completely healthy, he said. The rehab process provided Bishop perspective — and heralded in a new found dedication to his daily throwing routine.

“It was a struggle mentally,” said Bishop, who would escape to his home music studio when he needed to take his mind off the monotonous process. “It definitely made me stay within myself and not compare myself to others. … I just had to grind through it and get through rehab. It’s nice to be back … It’s a breath of fresh air, for sure.”

It took until the end of August for Bishop — who bats left-handed and throws right-handed — to fully recoup the strength in his shoulder. The arm came back before the swing, he said. He returned July 29 and appeared in 13 games — four hits and 10 strikeouts in 23 at-bats — but never reached 100% before the season ended.

It was around that time that Bishop got a call from general manager Scott Harris, asking if he’d like to play in the Arizona Fall League.

Bishop jumped at the opportunity and nearly equaled his amount of at-bats from the regular season, posting a .754 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 42 at-bats and earning a nod to the annual Fall Stars game. The strikeouts, however, persisted — 20 in 42 at-bats.

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