Chris Stratton

Could Kelby Tomlinson be part of Giants' solution in outfield?

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Could Kelby Tomlinson be part of Giants' solution in outfield?

SAN FRANCISCO — The “hot stove” seemed to finally get going Wednesday morning when several reporters tweeted that Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole was headed to Houston. 

Would that lead to free agent starters signing deals they had in hand? Would the Pirates finally tear it down and trade Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison, too? Would the Giants be on the other end of a McCutchen deal?

Well … none of the above. Cole hasn’t been traded, at least as of this posting, and the offseason remains as quiet as ever. 

But, there are still Giants topics to go over, so here’s another round of Q&A as we wait for real moves. Thanks to everyone who reached out on Twitter and Facebook, and as a reminder, you can ask your questions here on Twitter or here on Facebook and I’ll get to them in these mailbag pieces or on the podcast. 

What is Kelby’s role? Can’t they groom him for center field and put him in the leadoff spot? — Frankie Jai Barker, via Facebook. 

Kelby Tomlinson has played parts of three seasons in the big leagues and the staff has simply never really viewed him as a starter. It’s a bit weird when you look at his career splits: he has a .280/.347/.352 slash line as a starter and a .292/.359/.348 line off the bench. I mean, he is what he is, an average-dependent player with intriguing speed and little power, but that’s a nice piece on a team without much depth. 

Tomlinson is blocked at every infield spot, and to answer this specific question, the Giants don’t believe that he can really transition to the outfield.

At the same time, I watched this front office and coaching staff put Aaron Hill in left field at the end of his career. I watched Travis Ishikawa move out there. I watched Ryan Theriot take fly balls. I have no idea why Tomlinson got just two starts in the outfield on a 98-loss team. The most underrated failure of the 2017 season is that the Giants saw practically no development at the big league level. A lot of that had to do prospects getting hurt, but the staff certainly missed an opportunity to experiment a bit with guys like Tomlinson or Chris Shaw, who I still believe should have gotten September at-bats.

Steve Young retired after his fourth concussion in three years. Brandon Belt is in that ballpark. Has he or the team given retirement a thought? — Patrick Connolly, via Facebook

Belt’s concussion in August was his third in the last four seasons and fourth in eight years when you include a really bad one he suffered while playing at the University of Texas. There was concern when this latest one happened and I’m sure Belt and the team still have concerns, but in talking to Belt and team officials, I’ve never heard a hint of retirement talk. In September, when he admitted his season was over, Belt said he was focused on 2018, and added that none of the doctors he has seen have told him he should stop playing. 

“There are always going to be some questions about whether this has some long-term effects, and hopefully it doesn’t,” Belt told me. “But right now it’s not going to keep me from playing baseball … It’s not like I’m repeatedly banging my head against something. If that was the case, it might affect me more in the long term. This is more sporadic and the hits aren’t too terrible. Once I get over these concussions, they tell me that I won’t have to worry about them anymore.”

For the sake of Belt and his family, you hope that that’s true. This is different than football in that Belt doesn’t really have any other collisions that have gone undiagnosed, and there’s no reason to think he’ll take another blow to the head. As I always say when people call him injury prone, people just need to stop throwing baseballs at Belt and he’ll be fine. Hopefully that’s the case for the rest of his career.

Why would the Giants pursue either a free agent (Bruce) or a rental player (McCutchen), rather than try to get a player that they would have more control over the next few years? I would think that the allure of having a stable lineup would be better than the volatility of the market. — Eric Quertermous, via Facebook. 

In a perfect world, the Giants would have walked away from the Winter Meetings with Marcell Ozuna, or they would be at the front of the line for Christian Yelich, or they would have a deal ready for Jackie Bradley Jr. Unfortunately, they live in a world where they just don’t have very many prospects that appeal to other teams. The Marlins made it clear that the Giants didn’t have enough to get Ozuna, who would have solved a ton of their problems, and there’s no way they can outbid others for Yelich, who is 26 years old and owed just $44.5 million over the next four years. 

This is why Brian Sabean has said that he doesn’t want to give up draft picks (second and fifth rounders) for a player like Lorenzo Cain, and it’s why I believe strongly that they need to stick to those guns, no matter how weird this offseason gets. To compete as this core ages, they’ll need a better farm system so they can be more competitive on the trade market. 

Or, a more ideal situation: Start developing homegrown stars again and then lock those guys up. That’s light years more efficient than their recent run of spending hundreds of millions in free agency. 

With Matt Moore gone, is Ty Blach back in the rotation? Stratton, Beede, Suarez or get a vet starter to round out the top five? — @Jeff_Henig

After the Moore trade, I kept thinking back to a conversation I had with Bruce Bochy in September. I asked him if Chris Stratton was legit and if he would be the No. 5 starter in 2018. “I think he’s more than that,” Bochy said. He always viewed Stratton as more than a swing guy, and I would expect the right-hander to open the year as the No. 4 starter. The Giants have been hesitant to say much about Blach’s role before he gets to spring training, but my gut says he’s headed for the bullpen as another lefty/long reliever. As I wrote in an earlier mailbag, don’t overlook Andrew Suarez in the race for the No. 5 spot, but my guess is that the Giants will sign a veteran to a minor league deal, and that he will win the job in Scottsdale. That’s what they do. 

Alex, wondering if Eduardo Nuñez is still available? Would definitely prefer to see Nuñez over Pablo Sandoval. — Mark Hanes, via Facebook. 

Mark, I’m sure the rest of the fan base agrees, and Nuñez is still looking for a job. Ken Rosenthal wrote recently that some established big leaguers have started to ask their agents if they’ll have to take minor league deals, and if Nuñez is sitting there in a month and looking at nothing but cheap one-year offers, I would absolutely make the call. He would be perfect as super-utility backup, and man, this team sure could use more guys with energy. I’ve got to think that eventually someone will give him $4-5 million or so, and the Giants would be better served using that kind of money on their bullpen, but who knows … this continues to be the weirdest offseason in recent memory. 

In final start, Stratton shows he deserves to be in Giants' 2018 rotation

In final start, Stratton shows he deserves to be in Giants' 2018 rotation

SAN FRANCISCO — You would have a hard time finding a starter in Major League Baseball who dealt with weirder pre-game distractions than Chris Stratton. He had 20 minutes notice one day because Johnny Cueto was a late scratch. Before one home start, Stratton was delayed several minutes by a long pre-game ceremony, and another night was scuttled by a rare lightning storm around AT&T Park. On Friday night, the first pitch was delayed six minutes because of the Willie Mac Award ceremony. 

The wait for Stratton’s next start will be a long one, but it’s going to be much easier to handle. 

Stratton will enter the offseason as the favorite to be the No. 5 starter in next year’s rotation. Anything can happen of course, from a surprise free agent addition to a trade to a spring injury, but the Giants believe they have a contributor in the 27-year-old right-hander, and Stratton did nothing but bolster his case on his final night of the season. He went into his offseason on a high note. 

Stratton has pitched well, but he hasn’t gone particularly deep into games. He wanted to do so Friday, and he pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings before leaving to a standing ovation. The Giants crushed the Padres 8-0. Stratton finished his rookie year with a 3.68 ERA, and he was 4-2 with a 2.27 ERA in his final eight starts. During that stretch, he had 39 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings. 

“He’s made a really big statement, I think, if you look at his body of work,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Just watching him pound the strike zone, he’s got two good breaking balls and a changeup. He’s locating well and he finished up on a good note tonight. It’s nice to have a young man like this come up and make some noise, where he wants to be in the rotation next year. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but he certainly did his part.”

The Giants, for much of the last two years, have gotten similar performances from Ty Blach. But many of the organization’s decision-makers believe the lefty can be a more dangerous weapon in a bullpen that lacks a reliable southpaw. Blach will surely get a chance to compete with Stratton next spring, but it has been the right-hander who has gotten the starts down the stretch. For his part, Stratton said he expects it to be competitive next March. His mindset is that he still has a job to win. 

“All I’m trying to do is help the team win,” he said. “Hopefully they can see that I can help them out.”

That’s been crystal clear in a down year. Friday night’s win assured that the Giants will not lose 100 games, but it’s been a devastating year nonetheless. On top of the traditional struggles, the Giants have been stunned by the number of injuries to young players. Other youngsters have flamed out. 

Stratton was an exception, and he credited two veterans with helping him break through at the highest level. He said Tim Federowicz forced him to throw his four-seamer up in the zone more when they were together in Triple-A. Nick Hundley did the same in the big leagues. 

“They’re trying to get me to ride that four-seamer up in the zone,” he said. “(People) always preach down, every pitching coach says to pitch down in the zone (but) we’ve been really trying to ride (the four-seamer) up and it’s been successful so far.”

Throw in an elite curveball that rates as one of the best in the game by spin rate and you’ve got a pretty good repertoire. Stratton had the Padres off-balance all night. He had just one regret. 

“I would have liked to go a little deeper,” he said. “I had hoped I could get seven complete (innings), but I’m glad they gave me a chance there.”

With the way he pitched this year, he’ll get plenty of chances to go deep in games next season. 

Giants snap four-game losing streak to avoid sweep vs D'backs

Giants snap four-game losing streak to avoid sweep vs D'backs

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval homered and drove in three runs, rookie Chris Stratton pitched six strong innings and the San Francisco Giants beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-2 on Sunday.

The Diamondbacks had won 20 of 25 games and nine straight on the road. Their magic number for clinching a playoff berth was six going into Sunday.

The Giants snapped a four-game skid. Stratton (3-3) struck out four and gave up two runs, five hits and a walk.

Stratton also had the first of three singles leading off San Francisco's three-run fifth. He scored when Austin Slater drew a four-pitch walk off starter Taijuan Walker (9-8).

The Giants loaded the bases with no outs three times - off Walker in the fourth and fifth innings and against T.J. McFarland in the seventh.

Sandoval homered leading off the sixth - his third in 37 games since returning to the Giants in July. He's batting .185 since being acquired.

Sandoval drove in a run in the seventh with a fielder's choice on a fly ball that dropped near left fielder David Peralta, who fired to second get a force out on Brandon Crawford. Sandoval also knocked in the game's first run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth.

J.D. Martinez hit a two-run homer off Stratton in the sixth, his 24th home run in 51 games since the Diamondbacks acquired him in a July trade with the Detroit Tigers.

Walker gave up four runs and seven hits in five innings.

STARTERS' STREAK SNAPPED

Walker's outing snapped a streak of eight straight games in which Diamondbacks starters gave up two or fewer runs. Starters were a combined 5-0 with a 1.62 ERA over that stretch.

VOGELSONG RETIRES

Fan favorite Ryan Vogelsong retired as a Giant in a ceremony before the game. Vogelsong was part of the Giants' championship teams in 2012 and 2014.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Giants: C Buster Posey was out of the lineup after fouling a ball off his left big toe Saturday. Manager Bruce Bochy said the injury isn't serious and expects to have him back in the lineup after Monday's day off. ... LHP Will Smith, who had Tommy John surgery in March, started his throwing program on Sunday.

UP NEXT

Diamondbacks: LHP Patrick Corbin (14-12, 4.06 ERA) will pitch Monday's series opener in San Diego. Corbin is 6-1 with a 2.12 ERA in his last seven starts. He's 5-6 with a 4.29 ERA in 15 career outings (including 10 starts) against the Padres.

Giants: After the team's day off, Johnny Cueto (7-8, 4.58 ERA) will pitch Tuesday's series opener against Colorado. Cueto is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts since coming off the DL with a flexor tendon strain on Sept. 1. He is 9-3 with a 2.66 ERA in in 15 career starts against the Rockies.