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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Giants bullpen roles still undecided

The Cactus League has officially come to an end as the Giants arrived back in the Bay Area Wednesday. They ended up going 16-16, which means absolutely nothing, but they had some guys really standout and present themselves as options, if not for the opening day roster, then certainly down the road.

The three big things you really hope for each spring is that your squad gets their work in, shows at some point they're ready for games to start counting for real and most importantly, avoids any sort of injury, especially long-term. While the Giants didn't have anyone in their starting lineup or rotation hit the shelf, they did lose their left-handed set-up man for the year. Will Smith's injury was especially unfortunate for the Giants who are still trying to figure out in what order they're going to get the ball from their outstanding rotation into the hands of their new ace-closer on nights their starters only go 5-6 innings. We talked at length about the bench and how it really could shake out in a number of ways to open the year and the bullpen really is in the same boat. Obviously Melancon will be manning the 9th inning, but that's the only role with any certain clarity in the Giants bullpen right now. My guess is Derek Law will open as the primary set-up guy, maybe sharing with Hunter Strickland to see who emerges. Then come the question marks.

Right-hander Neil Ramirez had somewhat of a standout spring with 16 K's in 9.2 innings of work while allowing just 10 base-runners and sporting a 3.72 ERA and I believe deserves a spot in middle relief. The former first rounder sported a 1.44 ERA through 50 games his rookie year with the Cubs in 2014, then ran into some injuries which have set him back the last couple of seasons. George Kontos will to be slotted into mid-relief as well and didn't have a bad spring himself, finishing with a 4.50 ERA, a solid 0.9 WHIP and 15 K's over 10 innings. In fact, if you take away the two long-balls he gave up (that probably wouldn't have been home runs in 90% of MLB ballparks), then his numbers would have looked as good as any reliever beside Melancon. Speaking of whom, the new closer showed he's ready for Opening Day by not allowing a run and only 7 base-runners in 9 innings.

The best non-closer showing of any reliever, right or left-handed, in the hunt for a bullpen slot was Steven Okert. The big lefty pitched well in his brief stint in 2016 and looked un-hittable at times this March, finishing with 0.96 ERA and 7 base-runners allowed in his 9 innings of work. With Smith's injury, Okert has set himself up as the front-runner to take on the primary left-handed role in the bullpen, but Bochy could decide to go with the more seasoned Josh Osich. However, Osich was one of the hardest hit relievers this spring, giving up 13 hits and walking 9 batters in his 9 innings (2.36 WHIP). If Smith's injury happened a month prior than it did there would have been a few options out there on the market but at this point, unless you would like to see them lure Javy Lopez out of retirement and the NBC Bay Area booth for one more go round.

One of my favorite young arms on the 40-man roster and a guy who finds himself in a conundrum these final days of exhibition baseball is Ty Blach. He's shown the ability to pitch well in relief, and pitch well as a starter. The Giants have a big decision on what they want to do with him. My guess is he makes the roster, just on the sheer amount of work that Boch and Rags had him do this month. He threw the third most innings of any Giants pitcher this spring, and for the most part was pretty impressive. I don't think they would have kept him out there so much if they weren't planning on him being a big part of their 2017 plans. However, if they don't feel like he'll get enough work as the long-man or second left-handed option out of the pen, then management may feel better starting him in Sacramento. There he could get regular work in the rotation and on call for Matt Cain if he struggles out of the gate or (fingers crossed) something happens with one of the other starters. I think that if Smith hadn't gotten hurt then Blach would have definitely started in AAA and waiting in the wings on Cain, but now I think he's going to make the roster because the Giants need him. If they want to put their best 25 guys out there and I think there is a fairly significant drop-off from Blach to Osich. Blach's impressive relief outings, his dominance in a start vs. LA down the stretch then his work in the NLDS last fall  alone have that kid ready. Then he iced the cake with a solid spring showing in my book.

So, with the exhibition version of the Bay Bridge series looming with the A's, it will be some of these guys' final chance to show Bochy they deserve to stay with this squad when they head back to Arizona to open up against the D-Backs. So, like I did last post breaking down the bench options for the Giants, I'll go ahead and put up who I think should fill out the Giants bullpen based on a mix of past experience, performance this spring and potential moving forward.

CL: Mark Melancon
SU: Derek Law
RH: Hunter Strickland
RH: George Kontos
LH: Stephen Okert
RH: Neil Ramirez
LH: Ty Blach

Notes: We're just a few days away from the opener, and like we always do about this time, we've got our Giants 2017 preview and predictions on the way. We've already begun working on it and hope to have it up Thursday as well as our divisional predictions for the rest of the National League. Opening Day is sort of an un-official holiday in my book, it's easily my favorite day of the year and if your reading this then it's likely right up there for you as well. I could go on for days about spring performances but in the end they really are meaningless and I'm about ready for the real thing to begin... Only about 72 hours and counting folks...
The Giants Baseball Blog


  • At 5:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Finally someone talking about Ramirez. I saw him in 14 with cubbies and he can pitch. Pen may be better people think.

  • At 12:42 PM, Blogger Trevor Cole said…

    I do remember him slightly from covering that draft. That's the draft where the Giants had three first rounders and went 1 for 3, but that 1 was a big hit and that was Madison Bumgarner. The other two were Wendall Fairly and Tim Alderson if I'm not mistaking.

    But yes, if the Giants are going to reward players for performance like they seem to want to do, then guys like Marrero and Ramirez should make this team. Heck, Hwang probably should be the starting third basemen and Nunez moved to second with the way things have gone.

    I wouldn't be surprised that if Hwang tears it up in Sac, and the Giants have an apparent need in that bullpen or out in the outfield then Joe Panik becomes trade bate. Then again, there was an article just a few days ago about how they don't want to tamper with the ML roster, some think that ruined the mojo last season after trading Duffy.

  • At 7:13 PM, Anonymous Car41510 said…

    Cueto hasn't gotten much work this Spring. Going to be interesting to see what he does tonight and how long Boch lets him go. This is exciting seeing them back at AT&T though. ALways forget how much I miss baseball until it starts again.

  • At 12:08 AM, Blogger Trevor Cole said…

    Well Carl, I guess he answered your question. Cueto looked solid tonight, certainly ready for the season and that was very refreshing to see after he missed over half of spring training tending to his father. The pitching was there, and Blach threw another scoreless inning of releif which I think should shore up his roster spot.

    However, for the people hoping Ramirez makes it over Gearin, Boch went with Gearin tonight so let's hope Ramirez get in there tomorrow to get a chance to give his final showing. I just think that guy has much more potential and is really a better pitcher than Gearin. I was very surprised when they gave Gearin that million in arbitration in December. I was certain they'd try to upgrade with another right-handed relief signing.

    We'll see, one more exhibition tomorrow which I'm sure all will be watching, then the off-day Saturday, then things get real.

  • At 4:26 AM, Blogger Piotr Lak. said…

    It's good that you write about it.
    one night


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