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Kapler explains why he went to Doval early vs. Marlins

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There was not a whole lot that the Giants will take away from a 3-0 loss to the Marlins on Thursday night in Miami. 

They got an up-close view at Sandy Alcantara, who might be a surprise NL Cy Young Award winner this season, and they had some of the same struggles that have been the norm on this road trip, which now includes four losses in seven games. Overall, the game was a disappointing one, but it did include one of Gabe Kapler's more interesting decisions of the season. 

With the Giants trailing 1-0 in the sixth, Kapler called for his closer, Camilo Doval, to replace left-hander Alex Wood. It was a move that actually makes a lot of sense when you step back and look at it, but in the moment, it certainly was unconventional. 

"We feel like, a one-run game, we're right in it," he told reporters after the game. "We want to use our best relievers in those moments and give ourselves a chance to win the baseball game."

That is the ideal strategy for most modern managers, and one Kapler would likely prefer to use more often. He never named a closer in his first two seasons, although he has allowed players to pitch themselves into that role. Jake McGee did it last year and then Doval did it in September and October. 

The Giants thought they would come into this season with a three-headed monster at the back of games, with Doval, McGee and Tyler Rogers capable of mixing and matching for the final nine -- or more -- outs. That hasn't proven to be the case. 


Until this week, McGee has struggled to find his 2021 form, and Rogers had a brutal May. It has become an easy choice to just get the lead to Doval, who has eight saves in 21 appearances, 16 of which have come in the ninth or later. But on Thursday, Kapler and the staff saw an opportunity to prioritize a high-leverage spot. 

Wood pitched well but had a runner on with one out in the sixth. The Marlins had their four-five-six hitters coming up, all of whom hit right-handed. Doval holds righties to a .140 batting average with strikeouts in about a third of the matchups. 

It was a pretty easy call, even if it was strange to see the closer come into the game with the Giants trailing in the sixth. It was Doval's earliest appearance since last Sept. 22, a week before he picked up his first MLB save. 

"I felt like it was a good time for us to try to limit any sort of damage," Kapler said. "The one thing we've said pretty consistently since early in 2020 or even before in spring training of 2020 is we want to have a bullpen that can be flexible and pitch early in the game if it's a big moment, later in the game if it's a big moment. They don't always have to be compared by percentages.

"They're all big moments, you always want to limit damage when you can and I think in this particular case we were down by one run and we didn't want to go down by any more. Camilo is a pretty effective weapon against right-handed hitting and we've seen that for quite some time."

The plan was for Doval to get through that inning with the Giants still trailing by a run, and even if they didn't score off Alcantara in the seventh, they knew his pitch count was high enough that they would get a couple cracks at Miami's bullpen. With a one-run deficit, you have a much more realistic shot, and even if you've used your closer, you can piece it together if you manage to tie the game. Rogers, in particular, would have been fresh. 

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Of course, nothing seems to be working as planned for Giants relievers right now. Doval had allowed just six hits to righties all season but he gave up a double and a single. Alcantara, as expected, put up another zero in the seventh and the Marlins held on for the win. 

It was a dud of a game, but included an interesting decision, one that came about possibly because the Giants saw such a dominant pitcher on the other side that they felt they needed to try something new.


"I thought Sandy was excellent," Kapler said. "His ball was moving all over the place, (he was) throwing really hard. He pitched a great game."

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