By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
SAN FRANCISCO — There may not be a more authoritative voice inside the Giants’ clubhouse than Buster Posey. And Sunday, the All-Star catcher was clear on what he expected to see that afternoon when Master’s University alum Conner Menez made his Major League debut.
“He looks like a guy who’s confident in his stuff, who’s going to attack the zone,” said Posey, whose words proved true as Menez punched out six batters and limited the Mets to two runs on three hits over five strong innings. The Giants won 3-2 in 12 innings, and the rookie left-hander recorded a no-decision, becoming the third player in Master’s history to reach the major leagues in the process.
Giants management made it clear before the game that Menez would factor into the team’s plans for the season’s balance, but what that meant for his immediate future was unclear.
Sunday, Menez looked the part of a bonafide big leaguer, displaying a level of poise that helped him rise through the ranks after the Giants picked him in the 14th round of the 2016 MLB Draft.
After allowing a pair of solo home runs in the second inning, Menez retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced. He struck out the side in the third and rendered a total of three hits and two walks largely moot.
“Afterwards it just felt like (the game) was blowing by,” Menez said. “… I was trying to slow it down, breathe, take in the moment.”
Menez set the tone immediately.
With his first big league pitch, a 92-mph slider, Menez busted the bat of Jeff McNeil into two distinct pieces. McNeil, MLB’s leader in batting average, grounded out to second on the play and did not register a hit in three at-bats against Menez.
There was more bat brutality.
In the third, Menez pumped a fastball past Mets first baseman Pete Alonso for strike three, and, in an act of frustration, the 2019 Home Run Derby champion snapped his bat in half over his knee.
“I wasn’t looking at it,” Menez said, “but then I heard the crowd go, ‘Whoa,’ after that and then I saw it on the TV that he snapped his bat.”
Others in attendance Sunday found Menez’s ability to generate swings and misses more endearing.
“He misses a ton of bats,” Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi told reporters before the game. “He’s got weapons, and in this day and age with how hard guys are hitting the ball, it’s nice when you can avoid having them hit it at all.”
Menez, who led all Minor League left-handers in strikeouts a year ago, wasn’t as fortunate in the second inning. First, he hung a curveball that Michael Conforto banged into the bay beyond right field. Then, Amed Rosario deposited a 91-mph fastball in the left-field bleachers. The Mets led 2-0.
But Menez, who pitched at Master’s from 2014 to 2016, increasing his fastball velocity from the low 80s to the low 90s during that time, recovered admirably, and the Giants answered with a run in the second and another in the fourth. Mike Yastrzemski hit a walk-off home run in the 12th.
“I still feel like I’m on cloud nine,” said Menez, who estimated he left 60 tickets for family and friends, the game taking place 90 miles north of his hometown, Hollister, California. He was especially glad his dad, Scott, and mom, Gina, who have moved to Florida, were in attendance.
“It was so special for them to be able to be there, especially coming out from Florida,” Menez said. “So, big shout-out to mom and dad. Super pumped they were able to make it. All the laundry, all the practices, all the throws my dad has given me growing up, it’s all paid off.”
At Master’s, Menez compiled a 20-5 record over three seasons. He owned a 2.26 career ERA, the lowest in program history. The first two Mustang alums to reach the majors were Mark Redman and Hart grad Jerry Owens.
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