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Kapler recalls when Doval became best option for ninth

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Camilo Doval

SAN FRANCISCO -- Throughout Gabe Kapler's first spring training in charge of the Giants, he never came close to naming a closer. The pandemic cut that spring short before the Giants could fully form their bullpen, but when the team took the field late in the summer, there were few set roles in the bullpen. Trevor Gott quickly settled into the ninth inning, but before Kapler could ever tell the right-hander the final three outs were his, he lost the job. 

A few days before the 2021 opener, Kapler insisted he had two great choices -- Jake McGee and Tyler Rogers -- for the ninth inning, and it played out that way. While it became clear after a few weeks that McGee was the preferred choice for the final out, both players ended up reaching double-digits in saves. 

Kapler never will feel the need to publicly install a player as his closer, but that doesn't mean things are unclear as the ninth inning rolls around. Over the final week of the season and then into the National League Division Series, there was no doubt about the hierarchy. Camilo Doval emerged as the closer, and he had that role against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

On this week's Giants Talk Podcast, Kapler talked about how Doval transformed himself after a rough early start to his big league career. Asked when Doval emerged as his choice for the ninth, Kapler said he felt the 24-year-old was "at his best in the last month of the season."

 

"That created a lot of confidence," he said. "I think we knew that as we entered the final game of the season that he felt like the best option on the mound with everything at stake. You could feel that. It wasn't a numbers thing. It wasn't right versus left, what's the best on-paper matchup here. It was just about, we felt like the guy could throw strikes and he was throwing strikes, and look, he just got beat. That happens. 

"He threw a slider that (Cody) Bellinger was able to dig up underneath. If he gets on top of that ball we might be having a completely different conversation and we might be still playing."

Doval's final act of his rookie year was his only blemish down the stretch. He threw 14 1/3 scoreless innings in September, taking NL Reliever of the Month honors while taking over the ninth-inning role for the Giants. Doval didn't actually pick up his first career save until the 157th game of the season, but he closed out three wins that final week and then threw three hitless innings as the Giants took two of the first three games against the Dodgers. 

Doval got the final three outs of Game 1 and then worked a two-inning save in Game 3. He gave up the series-deciding single to Bellinger in the ninth inning of Game 5, but before that, he had gotten MVP candidate Trea Turner to fly out to strand two runners on base in the eighth.

Doval faced 64 total batters in September and October. Just one scored a run. It was a performance that had Buster Posey listing Doval among the top reasons the Giants are set up as a sustainable winner moving forward. 

"It's no secret that he's got a bright future ahead of him," Posey said after Game 5.

Will that future include the first save opportunity of 2022? McGee had 31 saves in his first year as a Giant and only lost the ninth-inning role because he strained his oblique in September. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him also in the mix next year, but the best option for the bullpen may be to take October's plan into next spring and just set it in stone.

Kapler wanted a flexible bullpen when he came to San Francisco, but he said after his first year that he understands how important it is for relievers to have set roles. Lining Doval up for the ninth, with McGee and Rogers setting up, would give the Giants one of the strongest late-game plans in the game.

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It's one that was hard to envision during the summer, when Doval took a 6.39 ERA and command issues back to Triple-A Sacramento. But he returned in September as a new man. Kapler said Doval's quick climb to the ninth "was an indication of the development that had occurred" during the season. 

 

"We saw it in the middle of the summer that there were some control issues," Kapler said. "Control was the number one issue for him -- could he get in the zone, but then more importantly was he able to get ahead in counts and keep hitters behind, and could he throw a strike at will. He demonstrated that he was able to do that."

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