Bochy, Giants want bullpen competition: 'Roles are earned'

Bochy, Giants want bullpen competition: 'Roles are earned'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Tuesday was the first official day of workouts at Scottsdale Stadium, but Bruce Bochy looks at another day as the annual start of his season. 

“It seems like when the Super Bowl ends that that’s the trigger of, ‘We’re on,’” Bochy said. “For a manager you’re always thinking about things, but that’s where you say ‘it’s our time.’”

For the World Series to once again be Bochy’s time, he’ll need to find a better mix in the bullpen. The ninth inning is easy and was set in stone the second Mark Melancon put pen to paper. The rest is a puzzle, and Bochy on Tuesday clarified an earlier comment about when it might be put together. He had said at the winter meetings that the roles would be set early, but he clarified that “early” simply means sometime during the spring. The Giants seem to have all the pieces they need, just without an order, but both Bochy and general manager Bobby Evans made a point Tuesday of pushing for a more open competition. 

“Roles are earned,” Bochy said.

So, while you can picture Derek Law or Hunter Strickland in the eighth and Steven Okert or Josh Osich being the second lefty, the Giants aren’t ready to just give jobs away to young players. That was abundantly clear earlier Tuesday when David Hernandez, a seven-year veteran of the big leagues, walked into camp. Hernandez will make $1.5 million if he’s on the big league club and the Giants are certainly going to take a long look this spring. 

“Any time you can get an experienced pitcher with his stuff, now he’s definitely in the picture as we start to make up this bullpen,” Bochy said. “We lost half the bullpen or close to it with Casilla and Javi and Romo. David is a guy that’s been around. He has great stuff and he could be part of this bullpen now.”

The Giants have always liked their veterans, and there’s something to be said for having a talented young arm or two sent back to Triple-A, especially because you can bet the Giants will use the new 10-day DL to option certain pitchers back and forth. 

While Hernandez will join a big group of right-handers with MLB experience — Bryan Morris, Jose Dominguez and Neil Ramirez are among the non-roster invitees — the competition is considerably less complicated from the left side. Will Smith is a lock as the Jeremy Affeldt-type, but Bochy said Osich and Okert aren’t necessarily fighting for the lefty specialist job that opened when Lopez departed. 

“They’re both guys that can face right-handers,” Bochy said.

Osich was equally tough on lefties and righties as a rookie, but right-handed hitters put up a .371 on-base percentage and slugged .528 against him last year. Osich is confident that offseason knee surgery will get him back to his old self, and Bochy is hopeful that Osich’s changeup returns to form. Okert has a more limited big league resume, but the staff feels that he too can be a full-inning guy. 

Bochy expects clarity in all these races during the last half or third of spring, and he said that while he wants a more defined bullpen than he had a year ago, he also won’t get caught up in titles.

“Every game is a little bit different,” he said. 

Some might call for George Kontos and his ability to pick up a starter. Some might call for Cory Gearrin’s repertoire against tough right-handed hitters. Some will call for possibilities you can’t envision in February or March. Bochy has won three titles in large part because of his ability to sort through those hurdles, and after a rare down year for the group, he’s eager to right the ship.

“I really feel that when we leave here we’re going to have a good bullpen, a solid bullpen, and they’re going to complement each other from the left and right side,” he said. “When you have your closer, it’s a little bit easier to build down.”

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”