With Rule 5 pick, Giants select right-hander with 103 mph fastball


With Rule 5 pick, Giants select right-hander with 103 mph fastball

ORLANDO — The Giants didn’t leave Florida completely empty-handed. They added a relief prospect Thursday morning, and they believe they might have found a gem. 

With the second pick in the annual Rule 5 Draft, the Giants chose right-hander Julian Fernandez, a 22-year-old who spent last season in A-ball for the Colorado Rockies. By rule, the Giants must pay $100,000 for the acquisition and if Fernandez doesn’t spend the entire season on the big league roster, he must be offered back to the Rockies for $50,000. 

Rule 5 picks rarely stick — the Padres had three last season and none are really viewed as future contributors — but general manager Bobby Evans said Fernandez will have a real shot at competing for an opening day job. The Giants believe he has the stuff to potentially be in the back end of their bullpen throughout the season. 

A talent evaluator familiar with Fernandez said he topped out at 103 mph and his fastball averaged 100 mph last season. In the past, Fernandez has had trouble throwing strikes, but Giants scouts saw a big jump in his command in 2017 and believe it will only get better given how young he is. Fernandez is slender — listed at just 160 pounds — but is said to get good extension on his pitches, allowing all of his stuff to play up a bit. He struck out 57 batters in 58 innings last season in A-ball and walked 18. The previous year, he issued 20 walks in 23 innings. He has a 3.65 ERA in 128 career relief appearances in the minors. 

“It’s a plus-plus fastball,” Evans said. “The breaking stuff is not as consistent, but he has upside.”

The Giants also lost a player in the Rule 5 Draft, which allows teams to scoop up guys who were not added to 40-man rosters in time. The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Albert Suarez, who has pitched in San Francisco each of the last two seasons. The Giants took Suarez off their roster last month because he was out of options and would not have made the team in spring training. 

Giants look poised to put Mac Williamson in left field Friday

Giants look poised to put Mac Williamson in left field Friday

PHOENIX — After his team was held to fewer than two runs for the 10th time this season, manager Bruce Bochy said Mac Williamson will be in Anaheim on Friday as part of the taxi squad. The Giants need the outfielder to be more of a tow truck. 

This is a lineup that has not gotten in gear in any way, but a red-hot reinforcement is on the way. Williamson was hitting .487 with six homers in 11 games in Triple-A, and while Bochy couldn’t say he’ll be active and in left field against the Angels, it was not hard to read between the lines. Hunter Pence said the thumb he sprained in the home opener continues to give him problems and needs a few days of rest. It seems likely that Williamson will officially be called up Friday, with Pence going on the disabled list. 

“We’ll see what happens tomorrow,” Bochy said. “Mostly he’s coming up because he’s swinging the bat well. We’re hoping he’ll be a shot in the arm and provide some production, and we need some help in that area.”

The futility has the Giants six games out of first after just three weeks of action. The culprit is clear. Johnny Cueto, Chris Stratton and Ty Blach combined to give up three runs over 20 innings in a tough ballpark, but the Giants still dropped two of three. 

They need more than just one offensive fix, but Williamson represents a start. The 27-year-old has never stuck in the majors, but he rebuilt his swing in the offseason while working with Doug Latta, a private instructor in the Los Angeles area who helped Justin Turner became a star. Williamson’s swing has many of the same markers as Turner’s, and he had a huge spring as he continued to work on adjustments. Williamson lowered his hands and added a higher leg kick in hopes of keeping his bat in the zone longer and being shorter and more direct to the ball. 

“In the past I’ve been really active with my shoulders and hands late in the swing instead of just going and attacking the ball,” he said this spring. “I’m trying to just really calm down a lot of that non-essential movement.”

Williamson knew there was not a spot for him on the opening day roster, but hoped to make an impact sooner than later. His torrid start, plus the struggles at the big league level, have made this a daily question. 

“He showed this spring with the adjustments he made that he’s primed,” Bochy said. “He went out and did what we were hoping.”

The key for the Giants now will be to show more faith than they have in the past. Williamson is a .226 hitter in the big leagues, but his 212 at-bats have been scattered across three seasons and plenty of call-ups. It seems he is always one 0 for 3 night away from a demotion, but the Giants would be well served to let him work through any kinks this time. 

The incumbent in left field, Pence, is batting .172. His backups — Gorkys Hernandez and Gregor Blanco — are better fits as defense-first reserves. Pence hurt his thumb while diving in left field during the home opener and said it has never gotten better. An MRI back then showed a sprain. 

“It’s been going in a backwards direction,” he said. 

So have the Giants, but perhaps help is finally on the way.

Bumgarner has pins removed from pinky, to begin strengthening program


Bumgarner has pins removed from pinky, to begin strengthening program

PHOENIX -- The removal of three small pins in Madison Bumgarner's left pinky represented a big step for the pitcher. 

Bumgarner had the pins taken out Thursday and he now will begin the process of strengthening his hand, which was fractured during his final spring training appearance. He could begin playing catch in two weeks. 

"Once he gets that going, I think you'll see him make real progress," manager Bruce Bochy said. 

It still will be a long process for Bumgarner, who is on the 60-day DL and not eligible to return until May 26. It seems unlikely that he's ready on that day, but it could be soon thereafter. Bumgarner will need to play catch for a bit before starting bullpen sessions and eventually a real rehab assignment. Realistically, the Giants are hopeful that he'll be back in the rotation in early June. Bochy said he wouldn't be surprised if Bumgarner beats the initial timetable. 

"But it all depends on (how he feels) when he starts throwing," Bochy added. 

The Giants will get another key pitcher back Friday when Jeff Samardzija makes his season debut. 

--- Hunter Pence has a sore right thumb and wasn't in Thursday's lineup. The timing is, well, interesting. Mac Williamson wasn't in Triple-A Sacramento's lineup, so this could be the time a move is made, but the Giants also will need to clear a spot for Samardzija and they're hoping to stick with eight relievers for now. Stay tuned.