Dereck Rodriguez focuses on making adjustments with Giants spot secure

Dereck Rodriguez focuses on making adjustments with Giants spot secure

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Around this time a year ago, Dereck Rodriguez walked into the Giants' clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium and found he no longer had a locker. 

Rodriguez was one of the first cuts the staff made in 2018, but he dominated in a cameo late in the spring, worked his way up to the Majors by the end of May, and became a fixture in the rotation the rest of the way. If the Giants are to go anywhere in 2019, it's hard to imagine them doing so without Rodriguez duplicating that success. 

To repeat his rookie season, Rodriguez knows he'll need to give the NL a different look. 

"They make adjustments and I'll make adjustments and they're going to make some more adjustments and I'll make more adjustments," he said, smiling. 

One was on display Saturday, when Rodriguez pumped breaking balls to the Chicago Cubs in 3 2/3 innings that were much sharper than the line score showed. He gave up three runs, but all came in a rally consisting entirely of seeing-eye singles. Rodriguez struck out five. 

"(I'm) just throwing my off-speed pitches behind in the count more, and more consistently," he said. "That's pretty much what I've been doing so far, pounding the zone and trying to get outs quicker. You don't necessarily have to nip the corners. Go after them, get them out of there quick, and be on to the next one."

[RELATED: Giants' pitching coach has Pomeranz in his comfort zone]

In an era where front offices are focused on third-time-through penalties, working quickly might actually be a huge benefit for Rodriguez. He was much better as games went on, holding hitters to a .559 OPS the second time through the order and .596 the third time.

Rodriguez threw more fastballs later in the season, cutting back on his curveball, but he hopes mixing it up will allow him to hit a goal: 200 innings. It appears the Giants will give him a shot to get an early start on reaching that milestone, after initially saying Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez could start the season in the minors to limit their innings. 

"Right now, he's part of the rotation," manager Bruce Bochy said Saturday. "That's where he stands. I think he's been throwing the ball well."

That would appear to lock the Giants into a rotation of Rodriguez, Madison Bumgarner, Derek Holland, Drew Pomeranz and Jeff Samardzija in some order, but Bochy said they will continue to evaluate their options and keep it competitive. Regardless, this is a much better spot than Rodriguez found himself in a year ago.

"I'm still here," he said. "That's the biggest point -- I'm still here."

Why Giants mentioned Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole in explaining new staff


Why Giants mentioned Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole in explaining new staff

SAN DIEGO -- When you hear the words "player development," you think of 19-year-olds learning on back fields at the minor league facility in Scottsdale, or a roving hitting instructor spending time making swing changes with prospects Joey Bart or Heliot Ramos, or a coach teaching a Logan Webb or Sean Hjelle a new pitch. 

But when Giants manager Gabe Kapler talks about player development -- and he does so often -- he's also thinking about guys like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Kapler said this week that there's "not much I feel more strongly about" than players continuing to develop at the big league level, and that played a huge role as he hired a young staff that will ideally bring an innovative approach.

"There's evidence all over the place in Major League Baseball about players who reinvent themselves or take major steps forward and reestablish their value at the Major League level," Kapler said this week at the MLB Winter Meetings. 

The Giants are building for the future, but they also believe they can squeeze much more out of the existing core. And when Bart and Ramos are veterans one day, they want those guys to continue to find new levels, too. As he talked about player development at the big league level, Kapler pivoted and told a story about Bryce Harper, who already had more than 900 games under his belt when he joined Kapler's Phillies last season. 

"Bryce Harper, I think, was influenced heavily by Paco Figueroa, our first base and outfield coach, mostly just because Paco was not concerned about approaching Bryce," Kapler said. "He recognized that Bryce Harper wanted to be coached and wanted to develop, and he was willing to approach. Bryce recognized that so much so that at the end of the year when we were doing our exit meetings, Bryce recognized that Paco had been influential in his career and helped him become a better outfielder and baserunner."

Harper was worth negative-26 Defensive Runs Saved in 2018 according to Fangraphs -- just about the only blemish on his résumé as a free agent -- but was plus-9 in his first season in Philadelphia, a massive improvement. The Giants were actually intent on going that path long before Kapler arrived. When they offered Harper $310 million last year, their existing analytics and coaching staffs had ideas about how they could get more out of Harper defensively with positioning changes. 

Harper's not the only example the Giants will use to sell their vision to veteran players. General manager Scott Harris mentioned Gerrit Cole as another who found new ways to add to his game. 

"Look at the strides he made the last two seasons and now he signed the largest free-agent contract (for a pitcher) in the history of the game," Harris said. "You look at the strides he made when he first burst onto the scene for the Pirates and what he did in Houston. Their coaching staff was largely responsible for the development he saw at the Major League level."

The Astros' staff has gotten a lot of credit for turning Cole into the pitcher the Pirates were expecting when they took him first overall in 2011. Cole had a 3.50 ERA in Pittsburgh and a 2.68 ERA in Houston, where his strikeout rate jumped from 8.4 per nine innings to 13.1. He was worth 15.4 WAR in five seasons with the Pirates and then skyrocketed to 13.4 in two seasons in Houston. 

[RELATED: Kershaw believes Dodgers signing MadBum would be 'great']

Kapler and Harris are not walking into an organization that has a Harper or Cole, but they believe their new coaching staff and player-development methods can get the most out of existing talent. That'll be a focus in spring training, and the conversations have already begun with some veterans. Kapler, who mentioned J.D. Martinez as another example of late-career adjustments, said he has spoken to Posey multiple times since getting hired. 

"I think that a lot of established successful Major Leaguers want to get better and sometimes they don't know how," Kapler said. "In some cases, it's because coaches haven't approached them because they don't want to break something that's working well, but I think those days are gone and I think players crave having coaches approach them and ask them to make changes."

Dodgers signing Madison Bumgarner would be 'great,' Clayton Kershaw says

Dodgers signing Madison Bumgarner would be 'great,' Clayton Kershaw says

Despite what Giants fans want to believe, Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw are friends.

Before many Giants-Dodgers games over the years, they could be seen talking on the field, in plain sight of everyone.

So it should come as any surprise that Kershaw would love to have Bumgarner on the Dodgers.

"I love Bum," Kershaw said Friday at a Dodgers holiday event according to Dodgers Nation. "If we signed him, that’d be great."

NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic reported Thursday, citing sources, that the Dodgers and Bumgarner have a mutual interest in a deal.

Bumgarner in Dodger blue is the worst nightmare for Giants fans. But it's a real possibility with Los Angeles missing out on top free agent Gerrit Cole.

[RELATED: Padres reportedly looking at Bumgarner]

Kershaw hasn't been able to bring a World Series to Los Angeles on his own, so of course, he would love for a postseason hero to come help him end the Dodgers' title drought.