SAN FRANCISCO — Last August, Andrew Suarez threw 8 1/3 dominant innings at Raley Field, tossing 107 pitches while holding Salt Lake to two runs. Five days later, Suarez was working on another gem, this time in Reno, when he was pulled after just five innings and 74 pitches.
Suarez was confused at first. Reno is one of the toughest parks in the minors, but he had allowed just one earned run when pitching coach Dwight Bernard told him his day was over. While sitting in the dugout, Suarez put it all together.
“I figured I was just going to go five innings every start from then on,” he said.
The lefty was right. He threw five innings the next two times out and four in his season finale, tossing 73, 70 and 75 pitches. After that Reno start, Suarez was told that the organization was limiting his innings, and he did not receive a September call-up.
Eleven months later, the coaches and spreadsheets are still keeping a close eye on Suarez, only this time he’s contributing to the major league rotation. Alongside him, Dereck Rodriguez is in a similar situation. Rodriguez spent the first half of the 2017 season as part of a six-man rotation in A-ball for the Minnesota Twins. He spent the first half of 2018 grabbing hold of a big league rotation spot, and like Suarez, he is in uncharted waters.
The Giants will not make a run unless Rodriguez (2.89 ERA) and Suarez (3.94) continue to pitch well every five days, but neither has ever been through a six-month season, and both rookies will smash their previous career-highs for innings pitched. In an era where every warm-up toss and bullpen session is tracked, a lot of attention will be paid to two promising arms. At the break, the front office and coaching staff is confident that both rookies will hold up. The Giants don’t intend to give either one an extended breather as other organizations — notably the Dodgers — have done with young starters.
“If they made every start, you’re looking at 180 innings for these guys, and that’s where you would want to get them,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We’re comfortable not skipping them or having to back off right now. Now, that could change in a month if they’re showing signs that they could use a break, but there’s no plan to back off either of them.”
Instead, the plan is to — carefully — ride this out. Rodriguez will pitch the opener Friday night and Suarez debuts Tuesday in Seattle, and pitching coach Curt Young said both are scheduled for up to 13 starts in the second half. The optimistic view is six innings per start, which would mean approximately 78 second-half innings for each rookie. The Giants, like many organizations, feel comfortable adding 20 percent to a starter’s workload each season.
Rodriguez threw 101 innings in 2016 and 143 1/3 last season, so the Giants had him ready for about 170 this year. If he’s able to tack on six innings for 13 more starts, he’d end this regular season at 175, which is no cause for concern.
Suarez is on a similar path after throwing 143 2/3 innings in 2016 and 155 2/3 last year. He was projected around 185 innings before the season, and the current schedule has him set for about 190.
Of course, there’s a vast difference between facing the Salt Lake Bees and trying to beat the Dodgers in the middle of a division race. There are contingencies in place to help both rookies, including adding an extra day of rest between some starts and “backing it down a little bit” every third bullpen session. A similar plan is in place for Johnny Cueto, who nearly had Tommy John surgery in the first half and will get an extra day of rest before five of his first six second-half starts.
The Giants will have every Thursday off over the season’s final five weeks, and Bochy has always used those additional days to give his starters an extra break. That won’t change, and the Giants are confident Rodriguez and Suarez will be humming along through that stretch.
“We understand the stress level and intensity of these games, but knock on wood, they haven’t hit bumps,” Young said. “You hate to put the reins on a guy when he’s throwing well.”
Rodriguez and Suarez echoed that sentiment.
“If it’s not broken, keep doing it,” Rodriguez said.
“I’m just going to keep doing me,” Suarez said.
Both are well aware of the situation and said they would lean on veteran starters and try to get advice on how to handle a long season. But they have their routines, and they’ll stick to them. There were no signs of fatigue as a stressful first half came to a close. Rodriguez gave up two earned runs over his final three appearances. Suarez allowed four total runs over four starts before one bad inning on Sunday.
Rodriguez will take the ball Friday night at the Coliseum and try to start the second half with another strong performance. Can he keep this going through late September and possibly October?
“Ask me in September,” he said, smiling. “But I’m fine now, and I’m going to keep working hard. I’m not even thinking about anything else.”