SAN FRANCISCO — No matter what else happens in his career, Ty Blach will always be the subject of a good trivia question.
Who started on Opening Day for the San Francisco Giants in 2018?
It was not Madison Bumgarner, the franchise’s ace. It was not Johnny Cueto, who looked like a Cy Young candidate before his elbow started aching, or Jeff Samardzija, who was coming off a strong year. It was not Derek Holland, the former top prospect, or youngsters Dereck Rodriguez or Andrew Suarez, who may look back at 2018 as the year long big league careers started.
It was Blach, the quiet third-year left-hander who wasn’t even supposed to be in the rotation. Bumgarner and Samardzija went down on back-to-back days late in the spring and Cueto’s schedule didn't line up, so Bruce Bochy turned to Blach, the latest profiled in this series looking back at the 2018 Giants.
If you missed it earlier, here are reviews for Kelby Tomlinson and Chase d'Arnaud.
What Went Right: Blach entered the season with a 2.23 ERA in seven appearances against the Dodgers, so it wasn’t really a surprise when he threw five shutout innings on Opening Day. When Joe Panik homered, Blach had a win over Clayton Kershaw. He became the first Giant other than Bumgarner, Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum to start on Opening Day since Barry Zito did so in 2008.
Blach had a 4.25 ERA for the season but his numbers were much better out of the bullpen. In 34 relief appearances, Blach compiled a 3.17 ERA. Opposing hitters had an OPS that was nearly 100 points lower when Blach came out of the bullpen, and his strikeout rate jumped from a microscopic 4.9 K/9 as a starter to 6.7 as a reliever. Among NL pitchers who threw at least 50 relief innings, only San Diego’s Robbie Erlin did so in fewer appearances than Blach, who pitched 54 innings in 34 relief appearances.
What Went Wrong: You don’t dream of being a long reliever, but Blach was moved out of the rotation after posting a 4.90 ERA through 12 starts and failing to complete at least six innings in eight of those starts. Opposing hitters had a .788 OPS against Blach the starter, and he was weirdly equal-opportunity; lefties hit him at a .289 clip in 2018 and righties batted .288.
When Blach was not on his game, he was so hittable that he couldn’t live up to the long reliever role in those outings. Opposing hitters batted .451 when they put the first pitch in play and hit .343 against Blach with runners in scoring position. Among NL pitchers who threw at least 100 innings, only Homer Bailey allowed a higher opponents’ batting average than Blach.
Contract Status: Blach made $5.65 million in 2018 and is not arbitration eligible until 2020. He did use an option, though, despite never pitching in the minors. Blach was optioned on July 25 and then recalled the next day when Brandon Belt went on the DL. It was a mistake by the front office, and it cost the Giants a second option year on Blach, who has one option remaining.
The Future: Blach, 27, isn’t in the rotation plans any longer, but he could still carve out a nice niche as a long reliever who can spot-start. In today’s game, there’s a lot of value in being a left-handed reliever who can pitch two or three innings out of the bullpen and save your manager from burning others. Blach warms up quickly, has never had injury issues and bounces back well from outings, and he should be in next year’s bullpen as Bochy’s long man.