SAN FRANCISCO -- MLB's three-batter minimum for relief pitchers hardly is discussed anymore, but Gabe Kapler still finds himself thinking about the potential downside of it all the time, particularly in the moments when it takes the game out of his hands.
The Giants manager intently watches as his relievers warm up before innings, and on the nights when he sees a pitcher struggling, it can be an extremely helpless feeling. That happened in the fifth inning of Sunday's win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Kapler watched 24-year-old rookie Camilo Doval spray the ball around with his warm-up pitches. With the bases loaded, two outs and the Giants holding a five-run lead, Doval's first pitch to Dodgers catcher Will Smith was a slider that skipped to the backstop. His second pitch was up and away. His third pitch was so far outside that Curt Casali had to lunge to stop it.
Kapler and his coaches watched from the dugout. There was nothing they could do but hope their rookie figured it out.
"It does require you to kind of take a deep breath," Kapler said after the 6-4 win, smiling. "At the same time, I think we could be measured because we thought about that exact possibility before the game."
On night two of Bullpen Game life, the Giants were tested. They hoped to get more length out of some of their early choices, but Jose Alvarez, pitching second, struggled. The domino effect put pressure on guys not as accustomed to high-leverage situations. Kapler already had used Dominic Leone, Jay Jackson and Zack Littell, so with two good right-handed hitters coming up in the fifth, he turned to Doval, called up earlier Sunday.
Kapler said Triple-A pitching coach Garvin Alston gave a report that Doval -- who has walked 24 batters in 28 minor league appearances this year -- was throwing more strikes.
"The last appearance that we saw from Camilo was lightning, and he's been fine in Triple-A -- I wouldn't stay perfect, but he's been fine," Kapler said. "He's talented. When he came in from the bullpen, you might have seen that he's got a really, really slow heartbeat, so you don't think the moment is too big for him.
"It's a pretty intense atmosphere out there, and he was able to collect himself and do a really nice job."
Doval's slow heartbeat was tested by home plate umpire Tony Randazzo, who had a rough night behind the plate. Casali started calling for fastballs after Doval's first count got to 3-0, and he froze Smith with a 3-2 heater that nicked the outside corner at 99 mph. Doval didn't get the call, but he recovered to strike out Chris Taylor, an All-Star who represented the tying run.
Doval was one of nine Giants relievers to take the mound Sunday, and his outing was emblematic of the night as a whole. Not all of the choices were sharp, but each guy was picked up by the next reliever.
The Giants' bullpen allowed just six hits and two runs while walking six and striking out nine. Littell, who stranded two of Alvarez's runners, was awarded the win.
It was a good day for the group, but there's no guarantee all of them will make it to the next series. After back-to-back bullpen games, and with three games at Coors Field coming up, Kapler said the coaching staff and front office would discuss additional roster moves.
"There's no doubt these guys have worked really hard," Kapler said. "We expected that we may have to replace an arm, and we may end up doing that."