As camp starts, Giants still looking for relief help


As camp starts, Giants still looking for relief help

SCOTTSDALE — There was a consistent theme over the weekend as players and coaches gathered for media day and FanFest at AT&T Park. Some players even said it out loud: “I can’t believe Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen are here.”

During the quietest MLB offseason in years, Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans managed to add two former franchise players to a roster that desperately needed fresh blood and power bats. But as the two executives met with reporters, another theme hung in the air.

“So, uhh, what about the bullpen, guys?”

Both men acknowledged that they have concerns, which were backed by the Friday morning addition of Derek Holland — a lefty who could end up in the ‘pen or rotation — and the reported chase of righty Seung-hwan Oh, a righty who signed with the Rangers. 

“We have of course been the beneficiaries of strong bullpens,” Evans said. “We understand the value. It’s not lost on us the challenges we’ve had.”

“Challenges” is the kind way of putting it. 

A year after the bullpen imploded in the second half and swept the Giants right out of the NLDS, the group posted a 4.34 ERA and once again piled up the blown saves. Mark Melancon, the big-money closer, struggled before season-ending surgery, and the rest of the group never found much consistency. At the end of the season, Sabean listed the bullpen as one of his three big areas of need. The plans changed a bit when free agency started and relievers began to fly off the board. 

“We did focus on the lineup and obviously the market relative to the bullpen was pretty strong pretty early,” Evans said. “A lot of clubs invested heavily in their bullpens and that made it more of a challenge to add.”

The Giants are still in the market for relievers, and this unique offseason could mean that a veteran or two is willing to arrive later in camp and fight for a job. But for the most part the front office is counting on returning players to find health and bounce back. They don’t really have many other options at this point. 

Melancon was cautious Friday when talking about his recovery from a procedure to relieve compression in his forearm, but there has been no indication that he won’t be ready for opening day. Smith’s recovery is going well, team officials say, but there are no guarantees after Tommy John surgery, and the Giants won’t be able to run the lefty out there that often in April even if he is cleared for opening day duty. 

Evans noted that Melancon, Sam Dyson, Smith and Hunter Strickland should be able to take care of “the latter stages of the game,” and Cory Gearrin will once again have a big role after a sneaky season that ended with a 1.99 ERA. 

After that there are question marks, but also lots of potential. Take Derek Law, for instance. At this time last year he looked like Melancon’s setup man. Now the Giants simply need him to become a reliable sixth-inning option. 

“He’s a guy that has everything that we need,” Melancon said. “He’s going to come back really strong this year.”

The staff is hopeful that Law locks up that job in Scottsdale. Team officials are also holding the door wide open for another young right-hander, Rule 5 pick Julian Fernandez. The 22-year-old has never pitched above A-ball, but he has a 100 mph fastball and Evans has repeatedly mentioned Fernandez as someone he would like to see when camp breaks. The Giants will need him to make the club in order to keep his rights. 

The situation on the left side is more complicated. Josh Osich had a 6.23 ERA last season and Steven Okert finished at 5.67, and with Sabean hopeful that the team opens the season with just 12 pitchers, the lefties have an uphill climb to opening day. The off days in April could allow for Ty Blach to settle into a swing role early on, but don’t expect other young pitchers to get that chance. Evans does not want prospects Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez to debut as relievers. 

“We see them as qualified to break into the rotation at the right time,” he said. 

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.”