Okert vying for Opening Day job

Left-hander proving his worth in spring

(Ralph Thompson, Sacramento River Cats)

By Sacramento River Cats | March 20, 2017 7:44 PM ET

Left-hander and former River Cats reliever Steven Okert put forth another impressive outing Sunday in relief of Giants starter Jeff Samardzija, picking up where he left off last September.

Okert made his Major League debut last April with the Giants but struggled in his first five appearances before being sent back down to Sacramento. He learned from his mistakes however and when he got his second chance late in the season he remembered one thing: don't try to do too much.

"The ball was smoked and (Brandon) Crawford is right there and he turns two," Okert said Sunday to CSN Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic. "It was like, 'Wow. Don't try to do too much. Use your defense.' You've got Crawford out there making diving plays, and Joe (Panik) up the middle, and (Brandon) Belt scooping balls and (Eduardo) Nunez out there, and our outfielders. That takes pressure off any pitcher."

When he was recalled in September, Okert shined, allowing just one run in his nine appearances while striking out eight over eight innings. Now in a battle with Giants relief pitcher Josh Osich for a spot in the San Francisco 'pen, Okert knows all he can control is how he performs.

"I try not to think about it at all, honestly," he said. "Ultimately the decision is not mine. There's nothing I can do other than show my best on the field. Me and (Josh) Osich are buddies and we hang out. It's a weird position to be in, being buddies and competing, but I'm trying to stay within myself."

When asked about Okert's performance, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said "'O' has been good. He's done all he can, I don't know what's going to happen between those guys, but he certainly has pitched well."

Okert has also been taking advice from veteran catchers Nick Hundley and Tim Federowicz.

"The first time he caught me, Hundley noticed that sometimes I'm locked in on the target and sometimes I'm looking somewhere else," Okert said. "Hundley and Federowicz have gotten on me about looking in (at them) consistently. Everything with pitching is about being repeatable with your delivery, so I've been working on that."

Okert went 4-3 with three saves in his 41 appearances with Sacramento last season while leading the team with seven holds. He may start the season with the River Cats again in 2017, but now knows he is ready for the next level.

"Getting back up to the big leagues last year, when I walked in, right away it was: 'Congratulations. Make it about you being you. Make your pitches and you'll be fine,'" Okert said. "And getting in a couple of big situations last year, that helped a lot."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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