Giants

2019 Giants Position Preview: More consistency needed from bullpen righties

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USATSI

2019 Giants Position Preview: More consistency needed from bullpen righties

SAN FRANCISCO — There were a lot of trade rumors around Giants relievers earlier in the offseason, but the men who throw with their right arms were kept out of them. Will Smith and Tony Watson were the two most sought after, and there’s still a chance one or both will be moved before Opening Day. 

But for the bullpen’s right-handers, there shouldn’t be much change as 2019 begins. It’s a mix of veterans on deals that aren’t easily moved, and younger pitchers the Giants would like to build around. In the latest installment of this preview series — here are the catchers, corner infielders, middle infielders, outfielders, and starting pitchers — I look at the right-handed relievers who will gather at Scottsdale Stadium next week:

Returning: Ray Black, Sam Dyson, Mark Melancon, Reyes Moronta. 

You can bet Farhan Zaidi has talked about sliding Melancon and Dyson’s contracts into trades, but Melancon has a full no-trade clause and Dyson’s one-year deal doesn’t exactly stand out in this depressed market. Dyson has been a durable piece for Bruce Bochy and should be again. 

Melancon’s ERA dropped last season but his WHIP was 1.59 and his strikeout rate of 7.2 was a career low. The Giants still haven’t really found a consistent non-closing role for him, but if they do make some moves, it’s possible Melancon gets another shot at the ninth. He would probably be first in line. 

Zaidi likes Black and Moronta, who both have shown flashes of dominance. Moronta, in particular, is someone the staff has kept in touch with this offseason. There were concerns about his weight late in the year, but Giants folks who have touched base with him recently are pleased with his offseason work. He could be poised to take another leap. 

The departed: Hunter Strickland, Pierce Johnson, Roberto Gomez, Jose Valdez, Derek Law. 

Strickland was the closer last Opening Day, but the Giants non-tendered him in November — a bit of a surprise — and he recently caught on with the Mariners. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in his second home; Strickland generally put up good numbers in his time with the Giants, but after the way the last two seasons went, certainly became a change-of-scenery candidate. 

Johnson quietly made 37 appearances for the Giants last season but is now pitching in Japan. The Giants didn’t lose much beyond him in terms of innings. Gomez is in camp with the Pirates. Law, DFA’d last week, is currently a free agent. 

Additions 

I broke up the relievers into two groups and you better believe Pat Venditte is going to show up with the righties and the lefties. The switch-pitcher has had more career success from the left side. He’s the only free agent reliever the Giants signed to a big league deal. 

Non-roster invitees: Jamie Callahan, Kieran Lovegrove, Carlos Navas, Sam Wolff

Callahan is young (24) and comes with a strong pedigree (second-round pick in 2012), but his 2018 season was shortened by a shoulder injury. He has a 5.51 ERA in seven minor league seasons, averaging 8.8 strikeouts per nine. 

Lovegrove, also 24, has one of the most interesting backstories of the newcomers. He was born in South Africa and has been vocal on social media about spreading the game across the world. On the field, he’s coming off his best professional season. Lovegrove posted a 2.73 ERA in 41 appearances for Indians affiliates and his live fastball took him to the Futures Game. He was an early target for the Giants in the offseason, and they’ve had success with guys at the top of their minor league free agent lists (Dereck Rodriguez was one of those guys a year ago). 

[RELATED: Get excited for Kieran Lovegrove]

Navas, 26, had a 3.19 ERA in Double-A last season with the Reds and struck out 10.9 batters per nine while limiting his walks. He started his career with the A’s when Zaidi was there. 

Wolff, 27, should be familiar to a lot of Giants fans as the pitcher who came back in the Matt Moore trade. He didn’t pitch much last year because he was coming off an injury, but he has a big arm that piled up 44 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings. In 10 Fall League innings, he struck out 14 and walked just two. 

Outlook

It’s been a few years since the Giants had a dominant bullpen, and from the right side, it again looks like an inconsistent group. The non-roster invitees are intriguing and one or two of those guys — or a Melvin Adon-type — could team with Moronta and Black to form a nice core moving forward. For now, it’ll be interesting to see how Zaidi handles the holdovers. He is not someone who likes paying a lot for relievers, and if the Giants are taking a step back, there’s little need to have bullpen depth. 

Former Giant Hunter Pence finding success in Texas with rebuilt swing

Former Giant Hunter Pence finding success in Texas with rebuilt swing

OAKLAND – Hunter Pence spent seven seasons as a fan favorite in San Francisco, helping the Giants to World Series championships in 2012 and 2014. This week, he's back in the Bay Area as a member of the Texas Rangers.

"It always brings me good joy to be here," Pence said Monday. "I have a house in the city, so I got to sleep in that house and that was cool. It's always fun to be here."

Pence and the Rangers are in Oakland for a three-game series against the A's. The Fort Worth native signed a minor-league contract with his hometown team this offseason and made the big-league roster out of spring training. After a disappointing 2018 season with the Giants where Pence slashed just .226/.258/.332, the 36-year-old decided to completely revamp his swing. So far, it's paying off. In 11 games, Pence is slashing .281/.314/.469 with two home runs and six RBI.

"I feel somewhat like a rookie every day because, with a complete swing change, I'm learning and getting a little bit better each and every day," he said. "I'm trying to tweak and make it more consistent. But it's a lot of fun because it's new, so everything is fresh. I'm just really enjoying that process."

Pence actually played winter ball in the Dominican Republic for the first time this offseason to work on the swing changes. He admits it hasn't been an easy process, but he remains fully committed.

"I had to make a change," he said. "I had to get better and I had to trust the process. I made the decision. If you're going to play in this league, you have to contribute and you have to be able to help. I wouldn't want to be here unless I was able to contribute. I truly felt that this was the best opportunity to do that, to continue to do what I love."

[RELATED: Why Vlad Jr.'s MLB debut makes Bochy feel old]

To Pence, the decision to rebuild his swing represented what might be his last chance to contribute at the major league level.

"I just completely bought in," Pence said. "If it wasn't meant to be, then I gave it everything I had, and whatever. But right now, it brings me a lot of joy, a lot of passion to come and play the game that I love. It's really exciting with something new. It's a fun new way to approach baseball and it feels like it helps you a lot. It works, so I feel good about it."

Pence looks back fondly on his time in the Bay Area but he's equally excited for this current opportunity to play for his hometown team.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "It's a lot of in both places. I'm very fortunate everywhere I've gotten to play, I've loved every city. I think every city has different uniqueness and different things to enjoy and appreciate. Both have been great opportunities. ... (San Francisco) feels like a second home for me, for sure."

Pence and the Rangers are off to a surprising 12-8 start this season. While he will always cherish the great memories he created in San Francisco, he is completely focused on the present.

"I'm super happy with all that and in love with all that," Pence said of his achievements with the Giants. "But right now, I'm fully into playing with the Rangers and giving it everything I've got. We have a really exciting young team. I'm embracing this moment right now. I may reflect when I'm done, but right now I'm in the fire."

Why Vladimir Guerrero Jr. MLB debut makes Giants' Bruce Bochy feel old

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USATSI

Why Vladimir Guerrero Jr. MLB debut makes Giants' Bruce Bochy feel old

SAN FRANCISCO -- Bruce Bochy will spend parts of this season reminiscing as he walks into visiting ballparks for the last time, but all those memories are not the only reminders of how long the Giants' manager has been in the game. 

On Opening Day, the Giants watched the debut of San Diego's Fernando Tatis Jr. Bochy played with the 20-year-old's grandfather in the Astros' minor-league system, and managed against teams featuring his father. On Saturday, Bochy watched as Pirates rookie Cole Tucker sunk the Giants with a game-winning two-run homer. Later that night, Jackie Tucker visited Bochy in his office. The two have ties to the same community college in South Florida and Jackie played with Bochy's brother, Joe.

There's a chance this strange tour will continue Tuesday. The Blue Jays are close to bringing up Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is either the top prospect in the game or right behind Tatis Jr. Asked about the possibility in Pittsburgh on Sunday, Bochy smiled. 

"It shows you you're getting old," he cracked. "That's the biggest thing."

Guerrero Jr., 20, hit 20 homers with an OPS over 1.000 while tearing up three levels in the minors last season. An injury -- and service time concerns -- delayed the promotion discussion this spring, but he already has reached base eight times in 20 plate appearances in Triple-A, homering twice. He is ready, but there have been conflicting reports about when he might join the Blue Jays. 

A source said Sunday that Blue Jays players did not think the super-prospect would debut Tuesday. But, Bochy and some others in the Giants clubhouse seemed to think that was a strong possibility. 

[RELATED: Where each MLB team stands right now]

Bochy saw plenty of Vlad Sr. over the years. If he sees the son, it'll continue a theme that includes Bochy's own players, too. Bochy now manages Dereck Rodriguez, son of Pudge, and he managed his own son, Brett, for seven big-league appearances. 

"It's kind of cool to see these kids of ex-teammates and guys I managed against coming up and doing so well," Bochy said. "You see their talent."