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Left-handed relief again could become a Giants strength

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For all of the roster holes that opened up last summer, perhaps the biggest need for the Giants heading into the deadline was one that has been an afterthought for most of the last decade. 

The franchise that for so many years leaned on Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt from the left side found itself looking for usable options down the stretch. Jake McGee was DFA'd, Jose Alvarez got hurt and Jarlin Garcia started pitching in lower-leverage situations, so the Giants added Scott Alexander, Alex Young and Thomas Szapucki during the season.

A year later, they look to be in much better shape. 

Alexander is back and Taylor Rogers signed a three-year deal, giving the Giants -- on paper -- one of the best left-handed bullpen duos in the league. While Rogers is coming off a down year, he had a 3.15 ERA the previous six seasons, with 50 saves and an All-Star appearance for the Minnesota Twins. He's expected to take some of the load off of Camilo Doval's shoulders in the ninth inning. 

Alexander, a longtime Dodger, could be of equal importance. He allowed just two runs, 12 hits and a walk in 17 appearances last season and agreed to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration in November. In a division with Juan Soto and Freddie Freeman, he could be particularly valuable when the Giants are trying to get leads to Doval and Rogers. Manager Gabe Kapler also expects to use Luke Jackson against lefties once he's fully recovered from Tommy John; the right-hander has held lefties to a .229 average in his career. 

 

"Being able to mix-and-match with Taylor and Scott and the righties, so it's not the same dude every day, it's a nice luxury to have," Kapler said. 

Alexander faced 28 lefties last year and allowed just three hits, but there are times Kapler will have to be careful. He was somewhat cautious with Alexander last year because he was coming off a shoulder injury and said earlier in camp that there's "some mileage there." Still, the 33-year-old walked into his player meeting with Kapler and the coaches and said he's ready to take the ball 60-70 times. 

"I love when relievers talk like that," Kapler said smiling.

In addition to Rogers and Alexander, Sam Long and Szapucki remain on the 40-man and are battling for time in the big leagues. The Giants may also need to move one of their starters -- Alex Wood or Sean Manea -- to the bullpen if everyone comes out of camp healthy. 

--- Gabe Kapler and Farhan Zaidi challenged Joey Bart at the start of camp and said it was an open competition at catcher. Perhaps an awful spring would have truly led to a change, but Bart has been dangerous thus far. Through two starts, he has two doubles and a homer. He also back-picked a runner at second base, something that'll be crucial this year with all the new rules. 

--- Every contribution the Giants got from Luis Gonzalez last year was because of a decision they made a year earlier, when they acquired the outfielder while he was hurt and stashed him on their 60-day IL. It wasn't their first time doing that. 

In May of 2021, they sent cash considerations to the Seattle Mariners -- their favorite trade partner -- in exchange for right-hander Sam Delaplane, who was a little over a month into his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He has made just four minor league appearances since that trade, but the Giants kept him on the 40-man roster throughout last season and brought him back this spring as a non-roster invitee. On Monday, the San Jose native struck out a pair in his first outing of the spring. 

"I can't tell you how grateful I am that they've been giving me opportunities," he said last week. "I told Kap and (Andrew) Bailey in my player meeting, this is where I wanted to be."

Delaplane, 27, had worked his way back from Tommy John last summer and said he was feeling great when he started a rehab assignment with the San Jose Giants, who play a few miles from Leigh High School, his alma mater. He felt pain in his tricep and ended up having a bone spur removed from his elbow. The doctors who performed his original surgery had known it was in there, but at the time there was a feeling that he would be okay and it didn't need to come out. 

 

"Once the spur came out, my full range of motion came back," he said. 

Delaplane is no longer on the 40-man, but it's easy to see why the Giants have stuck with him through the setbacks. In 104 minor league appearances, he has a 2.56 ERA, but that's not what jumps off the page. Delaplane has 281 strikeouts in 165 pro innings. 

It's an eye-popping resume, and the Giants are hoping he picks up where he left off in the upper minors. There is still work to do, though, for a reliever who has been through a lot. 

"Sam has had a tough go. This has been a challenging rehab," Kapler said. "He's very, very physically strong. The velocity has not come all the way back, so we're trying to help him regain the form that made us also interested in him, but I think it's been a slower process than I think he would like, and same for us."

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--- Austin Slater won't throw or hit for the next week because of right elbow neuritis. He'll be reevaluated after the break, but the Giants so far haven't seemed very concerned. 

This is the third time in the last six years that Slater has been shut down because of some issue with his elbow. In 2020, he was unable to play the field the final two months because of a flexor strain. 

There is better news for two young players. Marco Luciano (lower back strain) has started to take batting practice, and while it's still unclear if he'll get into Cactus League games, he seems to be trending toward missing no or very limited time during the Double-A season. Cole Waites (lat strain) has begun a throwing program.

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