Seattle Mariners

Giants believe in Stephen Vogt. Olympia resident, after shoulder surgery, is back in the majors

River Cats player Stephen Vogt warms up at Raley Field on Monday, April 1, 2019 in West Sacramento.
River Cats player Stephen Vogt warms up at Raley Field on Monday, April 1, 2019 in West Sacramento. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Stephen Vogt is back in the big leagues. And, he’s back in his native California, playing for the San Francisco Giants.

Vogt — who resides in Olympia with his wife, Alyssa, and their three children during the offseason — was recalled from Triple-A Sacramento by the Giants on Wednesday.

His path back to the majors, where he was once a two-time All-Star catcher with the Oakland A’s, follows a long period of recovery from season-ending shoulder surgery last spring.

Vogt strained his shoulder during spring training in 2018 with the Milwaukee Brewers, and was placed on the injured list. He aggravated the injury in May, ending his season before it had even began.

“I unfortunately got hurt right before games started, in spring training,” Vogt said during a recent trip to Tacoma with the River Cats, “and then was one day away from getting back up.

“And, on a rehab assignment in Biloxi, Mississippi, in Double-A, I blew out again. So, I had shoulder surgery on May 17, and didn’t get to play in one inning of a major league game last year.”

Vogt’s last major-league game was Sept. 30, 2017. This spring, he played in 17 Triple-A games with Sacramento, slashing .241/.389/.500 in 72 at-bats. He had three doubles, four homers and seven RBIs.

“It was a long year,” Vogt said. “But, I was part of such a fun team in Milwaukee, and getting to be with the team in the dugout every game was definitely a good learning experience for me. I definitely feel like it’s helping me with the way I’m playing this year.”

Vogt, a 34-year-old veteran who has played in parts of six major league seasons since 2012 — this is his seventh year in the league — said he emphasized being present for his Brewers teammates in 2018 as he physically recovered.

“I think that’s the biggest thing we can do as athletes is just be present,” Vogt said. “Not necessarily looking to help, not necessarily going out of your way to talk to the young guys, but just being present.

“Being there, if guys wanted to bounce ideas off me, it was kind of like another voice. The coaching staff would actually bounce things off of me at times, and have me to talk to guys as an extension of them. It was kind of this weird hybrid of player-coach.”

Vogt said he embraced the role, and would try to give meaningful input when it was asked for.

“I was still a player, but the coaches kind of gave me responsibilities,” he said. “I got to learn a lot of things about the front office, so I just really applied myself to be present in all aspects.”

The process of rehabbing a shoulder injury was not new to Vogt. He also missed much of 2009, appearing in just 10 minor league games, before his season was cut short by a shoulder injury that required surgery.

He said he’s pleased with where his arm is after the work he’s put in. He said he did his rehab in Olympia, working with physical therapist Chris Potvin and trainer Ryan Hollingsworth to build his strength and conditioning.

“Those two guys, with the three of us kind of putting our heads together, came up with a really good rehab program,” Vogt said. “I was catching in a game less than 10 months after major shoulder surgery, so I think that kind of speaks for the recovery.

“I just really listened to the people around me. I think a lot of times when you’re going through rehab, you want to push it. You don’t want to put in the work. And, you just have to do exactly what the plan calls for. That’s what I tried to do, and that’s what I did.”

Vogt elected free agency in November, and signed a minor league contract with the Giants in February, which included a spring training invite.

“I was a huge Giants fan growing up, so this has been pretty special getting to put this uniform on,” said Vogt, who was born and raised in the Central Valley of California.

“Obviously, it didn’t play a huge role in the decision, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t help, if it wasn’t on the pros and cons list with our offers.”

He said it was a bit strange, having spent so much of his MLB career with Oakland, to join the Giants.

“We had some pretty heated battles between the two of us, so that took some getting used to,” Vogt said. “But, I really loved being around (Giants manager) Bruce Bochy, and learning from guys like (catcher) Buster Posey, and watching guys pitch, and just the way they go about their business.

“You never stop learning, no matter how many years you’ve been around, or no matter what you think you know. The day you stop learning is the day you’re going to be out of the game.”

He is listed as the No. 2 catcher behind Posey with Erik Kratz (hamstring) on the 10-day injured list. In his first appearance with the Giants on Friday night, Vogt pinch hit, and went 3 for 3 with a home run, double and two RBIs.

Vogt played both catcher and first base with Sacramento, and said the Giants are looking for him to be versatile. He said it was communicated to him there was a spot for him when he was physically ready.

Approaching 35 years old, Vogt knows the limitations of age in baseball but feels he has a few more productive seasons left.

“I say this, I feel like I’m on the downslope of the mountain, but I don’t know how high the mountain is,” Vogt said. “I feel like there’s some ways to go. … I definitely have a chance to have some good years still. I feel great body-wise, I feel incredible.

“I think the year off last year helped my body, coincidentally, but it’s just a matter of what the shoulder allows me to do. … I feel like I could play another three, four, five years if my body will allow it.”

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