Giants

Bruce Bochy not ready to name closer between Will Smith, Mark Melancon

Bruce Bochy not ready to name closer between Will Smith, Mark Melancon

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — At the Winter Meetings in December, manager Bruce Bochy was asked about the ninth inning and declined to name Will Smith his closer. At the time, it was easy to understand. The Giants were open about the fact that Smith was a popular target in trade discussions. 

It’s now February and Smith is still here, but Bochy again said he needs some time before naming a closer. 

“I don’t know if we’ll answer that until two or three weeks from now,” he said. 

The latest complication is a good one. It’s unlikely the Giants trade Smith at this point, but the man who was supposed to be the closer for four years is throwing so well that the staff wants to take some time to make a decision. Mark Melancon is fully healthy and had good life on his throws Wednesday, the first day of camp, and he remains in the mix. 

“We haven’t defined that role yet,” Bochy said when asked about Smith. “I’ll add to that that Melancon feels great. He looks like he got over the hump with his situation.”

Melancon’s first two seasons in San Francisco have been wrecked by forearm injuries, and with diminished velocity and cut, he has struggled. Melancon managed a 3.23 ERA last season in 41 appearances, but had a 1.59 WHIP and his strikeout rate dipped to 7.2 strikeouts-per-nine. 

The Giants often saw a good curveball from Melancon last year, but the cutter that made him so dominant has been inconsistent. The hope is that the repertoire returns and they can still salvage plenty from the final two years of a $62 million contract. 

[RELATED: Giants top prospect Bart catches MadBum in first camp day]

That’s not to say that Melancon would automatically get the ninth if he returns to form this spring. Smith was dominant for much of his first season back from Tommy John surgery and had a 1.90 ERA before a rough appearance on the final weekend of the season put him at 2.55. The lefty had 14 saves after taking over when Hunter Strickland got hurt. 

The Giants haven’t made a choice yet. They’re hoping Melancon makes it a tough one. 

Giants prospect Heliot Ramos' advancement 'really encouraging to see'

Giants prospect Heliot Ramos' advancement 'really encouraging to see'

Heliot Ramos looks more like a college safety playing football than a center fielder in the minor leagues. From his beard to his build, this isn't your average 19-year-old. 

Giants farm director Kyle Haines agrees.

“The physical tools are obviously there," Haines said on Tuesday's Inside The San Jose Giants Podcast

Ramos, the Giants' first-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, is listed at 6-foot-1 and 188 pounds. In person, it appears his muscular build appears even thicker, and at his young age there's still plenty of time for growth. His stature and potential turned the Giants on to draft him No. 19 overall, but it's his growth at the plate this season that has the franchise so excited. 

All offseason, Ramos worked on reading off-speed pitches better and laying off balls in the dirt while playing Winter Ball. Last season, he finished with a disappointing .313 on-base percentage. This year, Ramos is up to a .414 on-base percentage and has 11 walks to 13 strikeouts.

His ability to track late movement has stood out to Haines early in the year. 

“Those are characteristics that you usually see out of veteran hitters, and that was really encouraging to see that he’s started to acquire that skill," Haines said. 

Through 13 games, Ramos is batting .250 with 1.005 OPS for the High-A San Jose Giants. He's tied for the California League lead in home runs with four, is fourth in RBI (nine), fourth in total bases (26) and fourth in OPS. 

After starting the season 1-for-17, Ramos has 10 hits in his last 27 at-bats, good for a .370 batting average during that stretch.

“We’ve seen a huge advancement in his approach at the plate and I think that’s why you’ve seen the homers spike up a little bit," Haines said. 

It's hard to remember just how young Ramos is. When the Giants drafted him, he was only 17 years old and yet, he made a public goal of wanting to reach the major leagues in three years. Joey Bart is the talk of the Giants' farm system for all the right reasons and appears to be on the fast track to the bigs. But Ramos isn't too far behind. 

“He’d be a sophomore in college. He’s two years younger than Joey Bart," Haines reminded us. "We talk about Bart’s fast movement and then you stop and you’re thinking, ‘Hey what a minute. Heliot’s two years younger than what Joey is.’ It’s really encouraging to see … it’s exciting.” 

[RELATED: Bart, Ramos' San Jose Giants debut shows promise]

Ramos is the fifth-youngest player in the Cal League. He'll be a teenager all season long. The Giants, and fans alike, are seeing potential turn into production in only his second full season in the minors.

Despite some improvements, Giants' Drew Pomeranz is off to a slow start

Despite some improvements, Giants' Drew Pomeranz is off to a slow start

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Drew Pomeranz said it a couple of times.

"I've been feeling really good," he said after a loss to the Nationals. 

Pomeranz has looked the part for the most part, but thus far his season has not been what either side hoped. The Giants wanted a repeat of Derek Holland, but through four starts Pomeranz has a 4.82 ERA and 1.61 WHIP. He never got in gear in a 4-2 loss to the Nationals on Thursday. 

The lefty is averaging more than a strikeout per inning and his velocity is up about two mph across the board, but he also is walking too many hitters, has thrown just 18 2/3 innings, and given up four homers. 

"I've been feeling really good and the biggest part for me is trying to manage that," Pomeranz said. "I feel like I get on a roll and roll through hitters and a couple of times a game I get jammed up and end up throwing a lot of pitches."

That was Pomeranz in the first inning Thursday. In the fourth, he gave up a solo shot to Wilmer Difo with the pitcher on deck and two outs, which certainly qualifies as getting jammed up. 

Pomeranz said he has started seasons like this before and then "boom, something clicks." The Giants need that soon, but they are at least encouraged by the quality of the pitches. Pomeranz said an adjustment has to be made, and perhaps that may include mixing it up more. He entered Thursday's start throwing basically only curveballs and four-seamers. 

"The stuff is really good," manager Bruce Bochy said. "But the command has been a little erratic."

--- Mark Melancon has had a couple of nights in this scoreless stretch where he could thank the BABIP Gods. But on Thursday he entered with runners on the corners and no outs, needing a strikeout. So, the fact that Melancon got two of them was a big deal for a guy who has seen his strikeout rate drop in each of the last four years. 

"That's a tough spot to be in and he really made some great pitches and got some huge strikeouts," Bochy said. "He threw the ball very well, very well. It's obvious he's feeling really good, too. You can tell with the command of all his pitches."

[RELATED: Bochy, Belt frustrated by calls behind plate]

Through 10 innings, Melancon hasn't allowed a run. He has a 1.00 WHIP after posting a 1.59 last season. 

--- The Giants still have not scored a run in the first inning. They have scored nine runs in the ninth inning. It's nice that they never really give up, but that's an awful way to try to win. You're not going to rally against guys like Sean Doolittle too often. 

--- As far as I can tell, the Nationals did not have any mention of this being Bochy's last series here. That's certainly not required -- and Bochy doesn't want a bunch of gifts -- but the Giants did anticipate something. It'll be interesting to see how the Pirates and others handle it in the coming weeks. You would think Bochy would get shown on the scoreboard, at the very least.