Dalton Johnson

Down on the Farm: Ray Black and his 100-mph heater are back

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MLB.com

Down on the Farm: Ray Black and his 100-mph heater are back

Ray Black nearly retired before this season. Ray Black was designated for assignment to help make room for names like Aaron Hill, Chris Marrero and Neil Ramirez just last year. Ray Black can also throw a fastball 104 mph. 

With injuries and anybody's guess where the ball is going, Black's career hasn't paved a fast path to the big leagues for someone with a rocket right arm. But now at 27 years old -- he'll be 28 in June -- Black is back and maybe better than ever. 

Take a look at how Black was blowing up the radar gun for the River Cats Thursday night in Sacramento.

Black faced four batters Thursday night. All four outs came from strikeouts and only one batter reached base as the lone hit he allowed.

After only pitching 2.1 innings last season due to elbow surgery, Black began the season in Double-A Richmond this year. His start to the season was nothing short of dominant.

Before being promoted to Triple-A, Black appeared in 10 games for the Flying Squirrels. Over 10 innings, he allowed just two hits and one earned run. Batters had no chance in Double-A against Black as he finished with 20 strikeouts, and what was even more encouraging, he only walked four.

Once he arrived in Sacrameto, things didn't start as smooth out of the bullpen. Black's first  two appearances don't look great in the box score as he allowed five earned runs over 2.1 innings and three walks. But, all five of those runs came off two home runs and he still struck out five. 

Since Black's first two bullpen appearances for the River Cats, he's been nearly unhittable. Including Thursday night, Black has allowed only one hit in 4.1 innings with no runs, one walk and nine strikeouts. 

Healthy and back on the mound, Black has 34 strikeouts to eight walks in 16.2 innings between two levels this season. It has been a long road, but the Giants could have quite the treasure at the end of this map. 

Down on the Farm: Pence hits first rehab homer in grand fashion

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MiLB

Down on the Farm: Pence hits first rehab homer in grand fashion

The Hunter Pence hitting experiment is becoming more than a small sample size. Showing off his new Mac Williamson-esque swing in Sacramento, the poewer arrived Tuesday night for Pence. 

With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the third inning, Pence unloaded for a grand slam over the left field fence. The 343-foot shot was Pence's first home run since joining the River Cats for his rehab assignment on April 27. 

While the grand slam was easily the highlight of the the River Cats' 10-7 loss, it was just the beginning to Pence's night. In the bottom of the fifth inning, he singled in Austin Slater for his fifth RBI of the night, finishing 2-for-4 against Las Vegas. 

Pence has now been showing off his new swing he learned from hitting coach Doug Latta, the same man who completely changed the way Williamson hits, for 10 games. The results are exactly what Pence and Giants were looking for. 

Over his last 10 games in Triple-A, Pence is hitting .381 (16-for-42). He has also hit safely in all 10 games and six have been multi-hit performances. 

"There are times in your career when it's important that you make some tweaks and change," Bochy said last week on Pence's swing change. "Hunter felt that, and I agree. The fact that this is something that he really wanted is going to make it easier to work out for him."

Though it's only 10 games and he's not in Houston facing Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, it's remarkable to see Pence thrive at the plate with such vast adjustments at 35 years old as someone who has played the game his way, in the most unselfish way possible. 

Around The Horn 

-- As Pence uses his swing, Williamson keep raking. Playing left field Tuesday night in Sacramento, Williamson also went 2-for-4. Since joining the River Cats on his rehab assignment, Williamson is batting .333 with two home runs and six RBI.

-- Jordan Schafer, the former outfielder turned pitcher, tossed another scoreless inning for the River Cats on Tuesday night. 

-- Austin Slater can't seem to crack the Giants' roster, so instead he'll just keep mashing in Sacramento. Slater is on a 17-game hitting streak with the River Cats. He's also batting .396 after two more hits on Tuesday, putting him second among qualified hitters in the Pacific Coast League. 

Former Giants reliever Sergio Romo set to make first career start

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USATSI

Former Giants reliever Sergio Romo set to make first career start

Sergio Romo pitched in 515 regular season games plus another 27 postseason appearances in his nine-year Giants career. With the Dodgers and Rays, Romo has pitched in another 73 games. All have been out of the bullpen. 

That changes on Saturday. 

Rays manager Kevin Cash announced Thursday that Romo will start Saturday against the Angels. Romo is set to pitch the first inning and possibly the second, too. 

"The way that their lineup stacks generally speaking is very heavy right-handed at the top," Cash explained to reporters. "It allows us in theory to let Sergio to come in there and play the matchup game in the first, which is somewhat unheard of – up until Saturday anyway.

"Then Yarbs can, in theory, have the availability to get deeper in the game. There's no more secret about the third time through the order, everybody knows that. And that's kind of what this is about."

The last time Romo started a professional game was in 2017 while rehabbing with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in Single-A. Romo has started 28 games in the minor leagues. 

"I'll tell ya this, Sergio Romo's really excited about it," Cash said Friday morning on MLB Network Radio. "He might be the most excited of anyone on the team or in baseball. When I told him, he was jumping around like crazy... he was pumped."