How Giants relievers Reyes Moronta, Will Smith have formed special bond

How Giants relievers Reyes Moronta, Will Smith have formed special bond

SAN FRANCISCO -- If you get to the park early enough before a night game you'll see Giants closer Will Smith running 10 sprints along the warning track, with Reyes Moronta following along the whole way. A couple hours later, they often come out to play catch with one another, and when batting practice is over, there is a race back to the dugout. 

During games, Smith sits next to his new setup man and talks about everything from family to the importance of avoiding a leadoff walk. On team flights, the 30-year-old lefty from Georgia and 26-year-old righty from the Dominican Republic are side by side. 

Smith and Moronta have formed one of the closer bonds on the roster, but when you ask Smith how it started, he can't pinpoint a moment that stands out. Instead, he simply laughs and starts telling a story about the player he calls Mo. 

"He just showed up the first day and kind of followed me around for the rest of the day," Smith said, smiling. "And then we just kind of built this relationship day by day. It just kind of happened one day and now it is what it is today."

What Smith and Moronta have today is a special bond that survived an initial language barrier, ups and downs for both players -- including Tommy John surgery for Smith -- and a trade deadline scare this July. With Sam Dyson in Minnesota and Tony Watson struggling, they are the undisputed last two men standing in Bruce Bochy's bullpen. 

Smith was the All-Star this year, but Moronta is quietly having another strong season. He has a 2.80 ERA in 52 appearances and is striking out 11.2 batters per nine innings. 

Moronta has been effective from the day he showed up in 2017, posting a 2.64 ERA. Over time the other relievers have watched him grow as a pitcher. They have tried to help as much as possible, too. 

When Smith came up as a rookie with the Brewers, he had Francisco Rodriguez on one side in the clubhouse and Jonathan Broxton on the other. Smith would have to go over every outing with Rodriguez, and while his discussions with Moronta aren't quite that scheduled, the two do spend plenty of time breaking down appearances, and just as importantly, discussing what to do between them.

It can be hard for a young reliever to admit that anything is wrong physically, and Smith and others have tried to encourage Moronta to speak up more when something is barking. 

"Hey, these guys (the training staff) are here to take care of you," Smith said. "As a bullpen guy the only day you're going to feel 100 percent is the first day of spring training. You hope to be at 85 percent, 90 percent most days, and that's what we've tried to tell him. You're not going to feel great every day but if you believe you can get through it, you do. If you don't, you have to say something. 

"You do see him in the training room a little more now. Being the young guy in the training room, you don't want to be in there. But then (the veterans) finally kind of push you in there." 

Moronta finished third on the staff in appearances last year and is again third this season. He said Smith's greatest gift has been helping him move on from bad outings. 

"He taught me to trust myself and forget what happens today," Moronta said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. "If you have a bad outing, let it go and move on. If you keep thinking about the bad things, you're not going to grow and you're not going to learn. You're not going to last."

Moronta looks like he certainly will, and if Smith moves on in free agency he should get the first crack at the ninth inning. But for now the two continue to enjoy their time together.

For much of Moronta's stint in the bullpen, he has been the only pitcher with Latin roots. Predictably, the veterans have taught him plenty of English words and phrases. Moronta has returned the favor with Spanish. And because you get bored over three hours in a bullpen, not everything is from the textbooks. 

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"We have fun down there. He's been the only Latin in the bullpen for a while and he fits in with all of us down there," Smith said. "We were teaching him stuff -- probably not the best stuff in the world -- and he was teaching us. But we also definitely have baseball talks. The only thing we had in common (at first) is baseball and that's kind of where it started.

"We had our common bond of baseball and it went from there."

Travis Ishikawa didn't expect Giants call-up before 2014 MLB playoffs

Travis Ishikawa didn't expect Giants call-up before 2014 MLB playoffs

Travis Ishikawa provided one of the most memorable postseason moments in Giants history, blasting a three-run walk-off homer in Game 5 of the NLCS to advance San Francisco to the 2014 World Series.

It was Ishikawa’s second stint with the organization after making his MLB debut with the Giants back in 2006. In a recent appearance on 95.7 The Game, the now-retired first baseman said he wasn’t even sure he’d get a chance to play in the majors during that 2014 season.

“At that moment, I felt like there was no possible way I was getting called up,” Ishikawa said Friday. “I was struggling, [and] at one point, I was actually benched. I was a backup for about two weeks in Fresno, wasn’t even getting starts. Being a defensive replacement for somebody else at first base.

“They’ve got other guys that kind of do what I do, they don’t need me. I mean, there’s no way I see myself getting called up.”

[RELATED: Giants extend stipends for most minor leaguers but release 20 players]

Ishikawa ended up being called up to the Giants on July 29, and the rest, as they say, is history. The Giants' Triple-A team at the time was the Fresno Grizzlies, and the organization switched over to the Sacramento River Cats in 2015.

Ishikawa ended up winning two World Series titles in San Francisco (he also was on the 2010 Giants roster), but there likely isn’t a more thrilling moment in his baseball career than that fateful night in McCovey Cove.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Giants extend stipends for most minor leaguers but release 20 players

Giants extend stipends for most minor leaguers but release 20 players

The end of the month brought a bit of good news for most Giants minor leaguers, but a potentially career-ending blow for 20 of them.

The Giants have extended their stipend program for minor leaguers through at least June 30, continuing to guarantee them $400 per week. At the same time, 20 minor league players were released Thursday, continuing a trend around the game.

The releases were not a surprise and did not involve any elite prospects. The players being let go around the game right now -- some estimates are that it could be more than 1,000 minor leaguers -- generally are players who were filling out minor league rosters and had slim chances of soon reaching the big leagues. But this is still a rough time for those players, many of whom will see their dreams end this year as the sport deals with the fallout from the coronavirus (COVID-19).

With the draft shortened to five rounds and more than 40 minor league clubs already on the chopping block entering the season, big changes are expected over the next year regarding minor league baseball. Teams generally release prospects at the end of the spring and again before signing a new class of draft picks, but this year's group is larger than past ones. Baseball-America did research that showed teams release 22-25 minor leaguers through May in typical years, with 30-35 still falling in a normal range. The Giants had previously released 17 players in March.

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While there are some teams that have released significantly more prospects in recent days, others have committed to keeping all of their minor leaguers through the end of what would have been the minor league season. The Giants, by using June 30 as a date for extended pay, fall in line with most of the rest of the sport thus far, although they certainly have the resources to extend the program through August or even later at some point. 

The A's had previously informed minor leaguers that they will not pay players past May 31. When COVID-19 first shut down the sport, MLB announced stipends across the minors through that date.  

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