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First night of heavy bullpen usage was mixed bag for Giants

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Gabe Kapler, Mauricio Dubon, Jay Jackson

SAN FRANCISCO -- Gabe Kapler was not ready to announce his Sunday starter after Saturday's 6-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, which was not surprising. Jay Jackson wasn't announced as Saturday's starter until about seven hours before the first pitch at Oracle Park, and you can expect the same with a lot of these bullpen games. 

The Giants will discuss their plan and then they'll sleep on it and discuss it again. They will go over every last possibility, and hey, if the ambiguity gives them the tiniest edge against the Dodgers, they'll hold off as long as they can before making an announcement. 

Kapler surely knows who he hopes will start Sunday, but you can't blame him for his caginess. For all of the mystery surrounding the assignments this weekend, Kapler actually has been pretty open and honest about his intentions. 

"We're just going to try to cover games with a bunch of arms," he said earlier this week.

When Alex Wood got COVID-19 and Johnny Cueto's elbow flared up, Kapler said the Giants would use bullpen games to make up 40 percent of their rotation for the time being. This is not an "opener" situation, these are true bullpen games. That was made a bit more apparent when Jose Quintana was acquired and Kapler immediately said he would come out of the bullpen


But there was still confusion on Saturday, at least for a lot of observers, when both Quintana and Sammy Long pitched in a loss that once again tied the rivals up atop the National League West, so perhaps more answers are needed. Here's the thing, though: The Giants already have given them. 

They have 11 men in their bullpen right now and intend to get through games with some combination of them, but there are no "openers" or "long men." There's only a hierarchy of pitchers Kapler would prefer to use in tight situations and those who can soak up innings. 

While most fans apparently thought Quintana and Long were options to start this weekend, it tells you something that the Giants used both while trailing. They apparently view neither as the right choice to go up against Walker Buehler early in Sunday night's game. 

That's not a knock on anybody. The Dodgers are righty-heavy at the top of their lineup, so Kapler prioritized a right-handed arm in the first inning Saturday. If the visiting lineup is the same Sunday, you can bet he'll do it again. 

Maybe it'll be Zack Littell this time, or John Brebbia. Maybe it'll be a wild card like Kervin Castro, a red-hot 22-year-old who has been with the taxi squad at least twice this season but is still looking for his MLB debut. 

On Saturday the pick was Jackson, a fine choice on paper, but someone who jogged out to the mound in the first inning without his command. Jackson gave up a leadoff homer and then walked a pair with one out. That was it, and the bullpen relay was off and running. The first night was a mixed bag.

Eight different Giants relievers took the mound and just three gave up runs, with one of those coming on a balk the Giants disagreed with in the moment. But Jackson's lack of command early put the Giants in a hole they never got out of. 

"It was a rough start," Kapler said. "What I'll say is, you can get through those middle innings and still be very much in the game. Had we scratched a couple of more runs off of (Julio) Urias, I would say that we would have been going to (in the late innings) the guys that have kind of carried us all year. I thought in general, it went fine. But we just didn't make enough pitches. 

"The other thing I would say is you can't walk Dodgers hitters. It's always going to come back to bite you and we've just got to be better about getting and staying in the zone, because I think we outhit them today and they walked more and got more big hits, and you'd almost rather have the latter in this particular case."


A night after leaving 17 runners on base, the Giants stranded nine more. Had they come through with a big hit early -- and they had plenty of opportunities -- Kapler could have turned a close game over to Dominic Leone, Tony Watson, Tyler Rogers and Jake McGee. Instead, they all got rest for Sunday, which looms as a similar matchup, with Buehler going up against the Giants' bullpen that couldn't quite keep up with Urias. 

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Kapler wouldn't name a starter, but he said his group is well rested and ready to go at it again. 

"We've got a lot of options to get through tomorrow's game," Kapler said, "And it is going to be another bullpen game, so we need them."

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