With Mark Melancon back, Giants show off newfound bullpen depth

With Mark Melancon back, Giants show off newfound bullpen depth

SAN FRANCISCO -- After the Giants took the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning Sunday, Bruce Bochy turned to three relievers. 

The former All-Star who got the third-biggest contract ever handed out to a reliever. 

The versatile lefty who cost the Giants a top prospect at the deadline two years ago. 

The young right-hander with a 98 mph fastball and 1.38 ERA. 

This sounds like the norm, but for the Giants, it was technically -- with apologies to these three -- the B Team. Hunter Strickland, the closer, and Tony Watson, the setup man, were in need of a day off. Bochy also did not use Sam Dyson, who has pitched a lot recently and worked his way back into some eighth innings. But he still had plenty in reserve. 

Mark Melancon made his season debut and struck out the side. Will Smith pitched the eighth and worked around some traffic for a scoreless frame. Reyes Moronta needed just seven pitches to put the finishing touches on a 6-1 win over the Phillies. 

Yes, that was technically the second level of depth for the bullpen. But if Melancon is your sixth-inning guy, Smith is your second lefty, and Moronta is your fourth right-handed reliever on the depth chart ... well, you might have a pretty damn good bullpen. 

"We've talked about how nice a job the back end of the bullpen has done," catcher Buster Posey said. "You have Smith and Melancon back, it could be pretty formidable now."

After two years of Death By Bullpen, the Giants are back to their old ways. Those six form a very good group, one that should be finalized on Tuesday when Madison Bumgarner returns. The Giants will likely have to pick two of Ty Blach, Cory Gearrin and Pierce Johnson, and again, that shows their newfound depth. Blach started on opening day and now could be an overqualified long reliever. Gearrin is at his best when he's a right-handed specialist and Bochy can now use him that way. Johnson has struggled recently, but he's more talented than many of the pitchers who have sat in the bullpen the last couple of years. 

The key going forward could be Melancon. Bochy spoke to him and told him he would not return as the closer, or even the next man up. He'll pitch in the sixth and seventh for now. His return from a pronator injection was as good as you could hope. Melancon was only 89-91 mph with his cutter but his curve was a wipeout pitch. He threw it three times and finished off three strikeouts. 

"It's been a long time," he said. "It was a really good feeling to be back and be able to help these guys out. It was fun. It was a lot of fun."

--- Posey felt Hector Neris, the Philadelphia closer, hit him on purpose last year. He said so publicly, and a day later, Bochy called Neris an idiot. It's rare the Giants go that far. 

Neris pitched the eighth on Sunday and Posey was due up third. The first two fastballs were far inside. Posey appeared to stare into the visiting dugout after the second one. Then he hit a solo homer to left. 

Posey took the high road, both around the bases and later. He didn't stare back at the mound at all. 

"Just trying to go about the at-bat and fortunately it turned in my favor," he said when asked about it in the clubhouse. 

--- Andrew McCutchen had the big blow Sunday, a three-run homer in the sixth. It was his first in 159 plate appearances, the longest homer-less streak of his career.

MLB rumors: Giants have major presence during Troy Tulowitzki workout


MLB rumors: Giants have major presence during Troy Tulowitzki workout

Free agent infielder Troy Tulowitzki drawing interest from both Bay Area teams is not breaking news. 

But if it's news to you, allow me to indulge you.

The veteran shortstop, who was recently released by the Jays, has expressed a willingness to change positions if it would help him find a home on the right team.

During a workout in front of multiple teams, the Giants had the biggest contingent there watching him, according to Yahoo's Jeff Passan:

While Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria are locked in on the left side of the Giants infield, Tulo could fit in as a right-handed platoon bat with Joe Panik if he is serious about moving to second base. Manager Bruce Bochy has been talking about a lot as of late about the importance of platooning as the Giants look to fill out their 2019 roster.

"I really believe in platooning when it's the right situation, I do," Bochy said on a recent episode of The Giants Insider Podcast. "Why not? It makes sense when the splits are that significant on a certain hitter. If you can get the right player (off) the bench, now you're getting everybody involved, you're resting guys, you're getting a better matchup. All these things make it easier for me."

[RELATED: Giants in on Tulo]

First things first, Tulo is still owed $38 million by Toronto, so the monetary factor isn't much of a factor at all (the Giants would only be on the hook for a minimum contract). Farhan Zaidi's theme is wanting smaller contracts both in money and timing terms which sounds very Tulo-esque at the moment. 

It's also rumored Tulo wasn't a fan of the Giants growing up, but it's doubtful that's going to be anything of significance. He wants to play even if he did spend a decade playing for the Giants' NL West rival Rockies.

I know I sound like a broken record when we say "if he can stay healthy ... " but that term was almost invented because of guys like him. 

When all is said and done, seeing the five-time All-Star in a Bay Area uniform is something we should keep our mind open to. 

Giants outfield situation could change drastically before Opening Day


Giants outfield situation could change drastically before Opening Day

SAN FRANCISCO — Last week, Farhan Zaidi added two outfielders to the 40-man roster and told reporters he hoped to add at least two more before the end of the offseason. 

The Giants, who entered December with just four outfielders on their roster, should more than double that group by the time pitchers and catchers report in early February, and the incumbents won’t necessarily have a leg up.

Team officials don’t seem all that high on the current group, and when Zaidi was asked about the trio of Austin Slater, Chris Shaw and Mac Williamson, he noted how hard it can be to transition to the big leagues.

“One of the toughest things in professional baseball is for a hitter to make the jump from Triple-A to the big leagues, and then when you have to do it in AT&T Park, it doesn’t necessarily detract from the level of difficulty,” he said. “Between those three guys, obviously the major league production wasn’t there, but they’re all highly-regarded prospects and all have strong track records.

“Whether they’re kind of Opening Day guys or wind up being depth and get opportunities later in the season, there’s still confidence that they can be contributors at the major league level.”

[RELATED: Bochy embracing more platoon players]

Zaidi has said the Giants would be in a great position if they can add enough depth that Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez start the season in Triple-A or the bullpen, and he surely feels the same about an outfield that was a mess even with Andrew McCutchen last season.

That leads to some urgency for one member of the current group; Williamson is out of options, and although he came the closest to breaking through with a big start to the 2018 season, his year was wrecked by a concussion. Williamson was cleared in September and the Giants expect him to be given a chance to win a job when they report to Scottsdale. 

Slater is also strongly in that mix, although he is not a particularly good fit for Zaidi, who helped build a Dodgers lineup powered by homers. Slater hit just one in 2019, and the staff recently relayed the message to him that he’ll need to make swing changes and find a way to tap into more of his natural power.

Shaw has that natural pop, too, but he’ll need a huge spring to make an impression, especially with Zaidi so focused on adding versatile pieces. 

The fourth member of the group, Steven Duggar, is in by far the strongest position. Zaidi has long had his eye on the center fielder. 

“He’s a guy that I’ve — even before coming into the organization — I really liked as a prospect,” Zaidi said. “I thought he was a tremendous draft by the Giants. He was really productive coming up through the minor leagues, and unfortunately with the injury, I don’t think fans got a chance to see everything he was capable of as he was getting more comfortable and confident at the big league level.”

Duggar is said to be doing well after season-ending shoulder surgery, and team officials continue to light up when discussing his future. Long-term, the Giants view him as an everyday center fielder. Short-term, Zaidi hopes to ease Duggar in a bit and find him a platoon partner, although Duggar has shown an ability to hit lefties throughout his professional career. 

[RELATED: Dodgers, not Giants linked to big-name outfielders]

“There might be some spots where he sits against tough lefties,” Zaidi said. “I just think that’s a good way to try to keep your entire roster and your bench involved. I could see that happening, but it would be more about not overly taxing one player and trying to put players in the best position to succeed, rather than saying he’s a platoon player or an everyday player.”