SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants are being coy about what their rotation will look like at the start of the season. They prefer to talk about most of their pitchers as being "bulk innings" guys, and when Jeff Samardzija, Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly pitched in the same simulated game earlier this week, the subterfuge was ramped up.
But there's no mystery about what the end goal will be next Thursday in Los Angeles and for the 59 games that follow. You want to get a lead to the ninth, to your closer, and take part in a socially-distanced handshake line a few minutes later.
This, however, is again where it gets complicated for the 2020 Giants. What if you have no set closer, as seems to be the case? What if you have just one pitcher -- Tony Watson -- in your bullpen with a long track record of success in the late innings? With a week left until their opener, the Giants have a vision of what their overall bullpen will look like but very little clarity in late-game situations, and manager Gabe Kapler said earlier this week that he doesn't think they're "in a race to decide that."
"We don't really have the personnel with the track record where we could just slot guys into roles," Kapler said. "Outside of Watty, and Watty is still working himself into shape, we don't have a long track record of success, a long track record of guys being in one role in our bullpen. I think roles will define themselves as performance happens in-season at the major league level. I don't see us as rushing to set roles before Opening Day in our bullpen."
To be fair, this isn't a completely blank slate. Watson has closed at the big league level and has spent his entire Giants career as a dependable late reliever. While he has been slowed by a spring shoulder injury, Watson threw a second live BP session Tuesday and should be cleared by the opener.
There's absolutely no doubt that Tyler Rogers will pitch somewhere in the late innings, and the staff is confident that last September's dominance is real and, more importantly, that Rogers has the mentality to close if needed. Trevor Gott stands as the third easy answer, and as a former college and minor league closer he's accustomed to the stress of the ninth. But Gott also is being stretched out in camp, and like Rogers, he could find himself being thrown into high-leverage situations earlier in games.
This all seems incredibly stressful for a first-year manager, especially one who came here with questions about how he handled his bullpen at times in Philadelphia, and who follows one of the great bullpen maestros in managerial history in Bruce Bochy. But Kapler has embraced the unknown. His player development background shines through when you ask about the bullpen, in large part because the upcoming decisions are somewhat about deciding which players have the equipment -- physical and mental -- to handle a large role.
The bullpen figures to be made up primarily of former starters and swingmen, and they are not accustomed to the seventh or eighth inning of a close game. It could include youngsters like Caleb Baragar, Sam Wolff, Dany Jimenez and Tyler Cyr, none of whom have big league experience. Jarlin Garcia and Wandy Peralta stand out as two lefties who could be especially valuable in the late innings next weekend against Cody Bellinger or Max Muncy, but those would be spots that are relatively new to them.
"This is going to take a lot of projection and a lot of scouting, more evaluation than most field staffs are used to, and that's a very exciting thing," Kapler said. "We're going to have to place our bets on the ability of our pitchers to handle those roles."
Sometimes, those bets will be placed after seemingly innocuous moments. Kapler raved about Wolff the other day, noting the right-hander's poise when there was a runner jumping around on second in a scrimmage. He said a moment like that shows a player can "keep his heartbeat slow and low."
The Giants already know Watson is capable of that, and Kapler identified Rogers as Gott as two more who are comfortable in any situation. Rogers, in particular, may wind up being a key piece over the first couple weeks as the rest of the bullpen hierarchy gets sorted out.
The submariner has looked headed for the closer role, but Kapler said he has had conversations with Rogers about being versatile. He will pitch multiple innings at times. He could take down the sixth and the seventh, or the eighth and the ninth. He could be used against tough righties in any situation, but the Giants are also confident his fastball-slider combo will stifle lefties.
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"We see him as a Swiss Army Knife, we see him as a guy that can bounce back after a two-inning stint and giving us an additional inning the next day," Kapler said. "We see him potentially going through a larger pocket of the opposition's lineup when it calls for that and maybe we need a little bit of length, and we also see his ability to act or perform in a traditional reliever's role."
This is not a traditional season by any means, but when you have the lead after six innings, the goal will be the same as it has always been. The Giants know part of what they'll do. They'll spend the first few weeks of the season trying to identify the rest of the solution.
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