Giants

How Drew Smyly, Giants lefties fared against Indians' righty lineup

Giants

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- You don't go for the platoon advantage in spring training, but the lineup the Indians brought across the valley on Thursday certainly looked straight out of a regular season game. There were four switch-hitters at the top against lefty Drew Smyly, followed by three right-handed hitters. Eight of the nine starters for the Indians batted from the right side. 

It was a good test, then, for a Giants staff that came into camp with serious questions about left-handed pitching depth even before it was discovered that Tony Watson had a sore shoulder (he threw a bullpen session Thursday but has yet to appear in a game). 

There were three left-handed pitchers who stood out Thursday for different reasons. Here's a rundown:

--- Smyly recorded just one out before he was pulled four batters into the game. He needed 32 pitches to load the bases and strike out Carlos Santana, and the Giants are limiting starters to about 30 pitches an inning right now to be careful. So out came Gabe Kapler with the hook, and Smyly watched as Brandon Lawson entered and got an inning-ending double play on his first pitch.

"It's a crazy game," Smyly said, laughing. 

The offseason addition went out to the bullpen for 17 more pitches, getting his count up where the Giants need it right now. There was very little concern about his inability to put hitters away Thursday.

 

"I pretty much wipe the slate clean," Kapler said. 

The good news was that Smyly was 94-95 mph with his fastball at times, which will be a nice counter to his go-to curve. 

"My stuff seems really sharp," Smyly said. "It's frustrating because it was just one of those days I couldn't put them away ... My body feels great and I feel really strong. I feel like it's coming out (of my hand) really well."

Smyly is a lock to be in the rotation that first week. The Giants are going to give him and Kevin Gausman every chance to stick. 

--- Andrew Suarez was a big part of the mix two years ago but made just two starts last year. He was pretty solid out of the bullpen, though, and he allowed just two runs in 10 relief appearances in September. The Giants believe there's something there, and they've asked him to throw more four-seamers overall and use his changeup more against right-handed hitters. 

"He gives us confidence that he can do both (roles). In a perfect world we could use him in short bursts and kind of use him in pockets of a lineup where there are several lefties, but I don't think we have to," Kapler said. "It's nice to have a guy who can bounce back and forth potentially between the rotation and the bullpen. He's demonstrating that he can get right-handed hitters now, and if he does that successfully over a long period of time you could see him being valuable in both roles."

Suarez had four relief appearances last year that lasted two innings and he went 2 2/3 Thursday. That could be a nice role for him in a three-batter-minimum world. 

--- Strikeout rate is more important for relievers than it used to be, which is perhaps why Jarlin Garcia was available as a waiver claim despite posting a 3.02 ERA for the Marlins last season. The 27-year-old struck out 6.9 batters per nine last year and is at just 6.4 for his career. 

But the Giants were still excited to add him to the mix, and that includes Kapler, who saw his Phillies score five runs off Garcia in nine meetings last year. 

"Historically and against us with the Phillies, he wasn't a guy who made you feel he was going to strike a bunch of hitters out, and even when he had left-handed batters at the plate it wasn't really a strikeout package," Kapler said. "It was more of a soft contact package. Jarlin has done a really good job with staying off barrels of both left-handers and right-handers."

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So what makes Garcia so appealing? He's a strike-thrower, and he pounded the zone Thursday with a 93 mph fastball and good slider. He has allowed just two singles in four innings this spring. 

"Strike-throwers are really important in young bullpens and on teams that don't have a lot of superstar firepower," Kapler said. "Strike-throwers keep you in games. They're going to get hit around once in a while but they're not going to walk the bases loaded and put your bullpen at risk."

 

The Giants will have a young bullpen, and Garcia is out of options. He seems to be in a very good spot right now.