Chris Stratton

Krukow believes Blach, Stratton duo will be big surprise for Giants


Krukow believes Blach, Stratton duo will be big surprise for Giants

Between the Giants' first three starters in their rotation, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija have logged 4,698.2 innings and have combined for 795 starts in the big leagues. 

The leaders for the next two spots in the rotation are juniors to these Giants. In two seasons, Ty Blach has pitched 180.2 innings in the bigs and has started 26 games. Chris Stratton has only seen 68.2 innings and made 10 starts in 2017. 

To Mike Krukow though, these two don't have to be work horses of yore to be successful in San Francisco. 

"Look, with the way the game's evolved, you don't expect them to go out there and get 200 innings out of them," Krukow said Thursday on KNBR. "You expect them to go out there and go through the lineup twice.

"Whether it's four, five or six innings, that's their job. And both Ty Blach and Stratton are more than capable of that." 

Blach and Stratton came into spring as the leaders for the No. 4 and No. 5 spot in the Giants rotation. With prospects Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez competing to show they belong, Blach and Statton have done everything to keep them away. 

Through three starts, Blach has only allowed one earned run over 8.1 innings pitched, good for a 1.08 ERA. The lefty will never blow batters away, but he has struck out nine and is yet to walk a batter this spring. 

Stratton has made two starts and appeared once out of the bullpen halfway through spring training for the Giants. Over eight innings, the right-hander has allowed one more run than Blach and has a 2.25 ERA. He has 11 strikeouts and three walks thus far. 

"I like the fact that those guys are in that spot [No. 4 and No. 5]. I think that those guys will be a nice surprise for this club," Krukow said. 

If they keep throwing like this, soon it won't be such a surprise, but more of an expectation just like the trio ahead of this young duo.

Chris Stratton still taking Matt Cain's lessons onto field


Chris Stratton still taking Matt Cain's lessons onto field

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The first outing of spring training is the shortest one of the year for most starting pitchers. Some are limited to one inning, and if they’re sent out to go a second frame, they usually aren’t allowed to extend themselves. 

That wasn’t the case for Chris Stratton on Saturday at Camelback Ranch. Stratton found the bases full of Dodgers with two down in the second inning and Chase Utley at the plate. He didn’t dare look in at the visiting dugout. He didn’t want Bruce Bochy or Curt Young to think he was ready to come out. Stratton went to his bread-and-butter pitch, freezing Utley and ending the inning with a filthy two-strike curveball. 

“Might as well, right?” he said. 

The pitch, which has one of the highest spin rates in baseball, helped Stratton break through last season. So did advice from veterans, particularly Matt Cain, and Stratton said Cain’s lessons are still rattling through his head. He told a story about looking into the dugout during a tight spot of a home start last season to see if pitching coach Dave Righetti had any advice for him. Later, Cain pulled Stratton aside. 

“Be wary of looking to the dugout, because they’ll think you want them to come get you,” Cain told Stratton. 

While Stratton didn’t think of Cain in the bottom of the second Saturday, he said those lessons are now ingrained in him. 

“Hopefully I took it to heart,” he said. 

The 27-year-old is now in pole position for a rotation spot, but he’s still eager to learn from Cain, who retired at the end of last season. Stratton has sent Cain a few messages in recent months asking him to come visit Scottsdale Stadium. “I told him I need him to hurry up and get to the clubhouse so I can mess with him,” he said. Bruce Bochy has also asked Cain, who lives in the Phoenix area, to visit, and the Giants are hopeful he eventually takes on a role as an instructor. The process unofficially started last season, when Cain became a mentor for one last round of young starters. 

“He knew his time was winding down,” Stratton said. “I think he wanted to pour as much into me and Ty Blach and the young guys as he could.”

There’s one lesson Stratton doesn’t need Cain to give. Nobody needs to tell him that every start is important, despite his success last season. Stratton had a 3.68 ERA in 13 appearances and entered camp as a heavy favorite to win one of the final two rotation spots, but he’s not looking ahead to the regular season yet. 

“I just think you’ve always got to prove yourself,” he said. “I don't think anything is given to a young guy.”

That’s true, but Stratton won’t have to dominate the Cactus League to guarantee a roster spot. The Giants just want to see him build off last season, and Saturday was a good start. Stratton pitched two shutout innings against the Dodgers, who loaded the top of their lineup with regulars Utley, Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig. 

If all goes according to plan, Stratton will face the Dodgers on April 1. That’s the fourth game of the season and it’s nationally televised, and either Stratton or Blach will likely get the assignment. The other could be skipped since the Giants are off the next day, starting the year in the bullpen. Stratton shrugged when the possibility was brought up. 

He received just 20 minutes notice for one start last year because Johnny Cueto was a late scratch. Two other starts were delayed by pre-game ceremonies. Two others included rain that messed with his routine. 

“I haven’t done anything normal yet,” Stratton said, smiling. “Pitching is pitching. Whenever my name is called, I’ll be ready.”

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


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.