Adrianza gets start on 25th anniversary of memorable day

Adrianza gets start on 25th anniversary of memorable day
April 3, 2014, 12:30 pm
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Ehire Adrianza is 1-for-5 with a double, an RBI and two runs to start the 2014 season. (USATSI)

Omar Vizquel collected 510 of his 2,877 career hits over four seasons with the Giants. (USATSI)

PHOENIX -- The minor league scouting reports on Ehire Adrianza always took the same shape: Fantastic glove, bat gets knocked out of his hands, still learning to switch-hit, will be a big league regular if he can hit .250. 

The minor league scouting reports on Omar Vizquel always took the same shape: Fantastic glove, bat gets knocked out of his hands, still learning to switch-hit, will be a big league regular if he can hit .250.

Vizquel, of course, became a bit more than a big league regular. Nobody in baseball history played more games at shortstop. That's a nice thought to ponder on Thursday, which marks the 25th anniversary of the most overlooked big league debut in history -- probably because Vizquel's first appearance in the Seattle Mariners' lineup came on the same day that Ken Griffey Jr. first broke into the big leagues April 3, 1989 -- in Oakland.

I wrote about that day a few years ago for Bay Area News Group. Everyone from Dave Stewart to late Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus remembered Griffey’s every act in that game. Nobody remembered it was Vizquel’s first game, too. 

Wouldn’t you know it? Omar made an error. 

Wouldn’t you know it? Omar retired with 2,877 hits – 96 more than Griffey’s career total.

“I just remembered I needed to hit,” Vizquel told me back in 2008. “I was worried every year about it. Getting home from an 0-for-4 game, I couldn’t sleep. I was calling home a lot. I was feeling down on myself a lot.”

A scout who saw Vizquel at Double-A Vermont filed this report: “The book on him is that he’d never figure it out.”

The same could be said of Adrianza, another sharp fielding switch hitter from Venezuela who long showed promise with the glove (perhaps not at Vizquel’s elite level) but struggled with the bat.

Vizquel hit .241 in the minors. Adrianza hit .248.

Adrianza’s hitting held him back as he repeated levels and plunged down the list of top prospects. He is in his ninth professional season and only made his big league debut last September.

But he’s still just 24. He turned a corner when promoted to Triple-A Fresno last year, hitting .310 in 45 games. He blistered the ball this spring to nail down a place on the Giants’ Opening Day roster.

And on the 25th anniversary of Vizquel’s big league debut, Adrianza found himself in the Giants’ starting lineup at second base for a second consecutive day. It’s very possible his role on the club could continue to grow as long as Marco Scutaro remains idled with his chronic back issue.

“Oh sure, sure," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “I think he looks pretty good at the plate. He looks comfortable there and this pitcher (Arizona's Bronson Arroyo) is really tough on right-handed hitters. That’s another reason he’s out there.”

Adrianza smiled when told of Thursday’s anniversary, which came four months before he was born. He knows Vizquel from the time when the legendary shortstop was playing for the Giants and went down to get rehab at-bats in minor league camp. Vizquel took a shine to his 18-year-old countryman, paying compliments to Adrianza’s athleticism and hands.

“I took ground balls with him, and then he took me out to a restaurant,” Adrianza said. “Olive Garden.”

(You jealous, Brandon Belt?)

Vizquel has maintained his personal interest in Adrianza. They chatted last season when one was playing for Fresno and the other was coaching for the Angels’ Triple-A club. They chatted some more in November when Vizquel was coaching for Caracas and Adrianza was playing for La Guaira in the Venezuelan winter league.

Adrianza also gets all the advice he can handle from another accomplished Venezuelan shortstop -- his godfather, Ozzie Guillen. They talk at least two times a week.

“He’s kind of crazy,” said Adrianza, telling you nothing you didn’t already know. “He’s in Chicago, just chilling. He just tells me to play my game and have fun. No matter what, have fun.”

The rest, Adrianza is figuring out for himself. The bat isn’t getting knocked out of his hands anymore, from either side of the plate.

“Be aggressive and hit the strike,” he said. “That’s the only adjustment I made. You can’t miss your pitch when you get it. Right now I feel good and I’m happy to get this opportunity from the Giants.”

Nobody is saying Adrianza will play two decades in the big leagues, or collect 2,800 hits, or appear on Hall of Fame ballots. But for now, being here is enough -- just as it was for Vizquel when he made the most anonymous Hall of Fame worthy debut 25 years ago.

"Yeah, we debuted on the same day," Griffey, now 44, told me six years ago. "I still look much younger than he does, I can honestly tell you that."

"Sure he does," replied Vizquel, now 46. "He's younger."