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.

What the next 25-26 games will tell us about the Giants and A's


What the next 25-26 games will tell us about the Giants and A's

The schedule is always a treacherous way to decide the future of a baseball team. Teams get hot and grow cold again based on much more than the color of their uniforms and whether they cab or drive to the ballpark.

But it can be reasonably inferred that the San Francisco Giants were eager to reach this part of their season, in which 20 of the 26 games between now and the All-Star Break would be played in their relatively clement Third Street digs . . . and that the Oakland Athletics would be just as dismayed to hit the same stretch, since 20 of their last 25 would be played away from home – in San Diego, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Houston and San Francisco.

But even if you throw out the last three for each team given that there are no hotels involved, these are still long stretches without schedule balance.

For the A’s, who are average in every way imaginable (20-20 at home, 16-16 away), this stretch could eliminate them from their thin hopes of a playoff spot, if only because Boston, New York, Houston and Seattle seem to lose so rarely, and a struggle between now and July 15 could cause their already daunting 10-game gap with the postseason spots to grow beyond their ability to control it.

For the Giants, on the other hand, their deficit is a much more manageable 4 ½ games with Arizona in the NL West and four with Washington for the second NL Wild Card. Moreover, their health shortfalls are supposed to end soon, with both Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to return before the break.

But oddly, the Giants are racing toward rope-cutting time, in which they have to decide if (a) they will be buyers or sellers at the deadline, and (b) what they want to buy and what they have to sell. That is why this next stretch could well determine their fate just as much as Oakland’s.

San Francisco hasn’t been healthy at all this season (only two teams have spent more disabled list days so far than the Giants), but nobody cares. Every team has injuries, and every team deals with them. In short, life is cruel, and then the body part replacements come.

But the Giants have been kicking the rebuilding can down the road for awhile now, and this next stretch – against Miami, San Diego, Colorado, at Arizona and at Colorado, then St. Louis, the Chicago Cubs and finally Oakland – will very likely solve their most pressing conundrum.

Specifically, whether it’s worth it to draw from an already-thin prospect list to chase a veteran or two who could propel them into October, or whether it is better to bag the whole attempt and try to go with a full remodel.

The Giants haven’t rebuilt their rosters for a decade now, and said rebuild was an unqualified success, if judged only by rings and parades. But that time is again upon them, as much as they like to claim otherwise, and the matter of when that rebuild should commence will be settled to some extent by these next 26 games.

At least that is how the Giants would like to frame it. Both Arizona and Los Angeles could fall off the earth’s mantle and come back to the Giants, or one of them could heat up and render the whole exercise moot. Things change all the time in baseball, and they don’t follow a linear path. It’s kind of like WAR (wins above replacement, that is, rather than the other one). It all depends on the formula you use.

Mike Krukow reveals why Giants 'were not too happy' on Sunday in LA

Mike Krukow reveals why Giants 'were not too happy' on Sunday in LA

With every major holiday that occurs during the season, all MLB teams have their jerseys and hats tweaked to feature the colors associated with the holiday.

On Memorial Day, it's camo. On Mother's Day, it's pink. On the Fourth of July, it's red, white and blue.

For Father's Day, it's light blue, and that made for a slightly awkward situation Sunday in Los Angeles as the Giants' black hat was replaced by a light blue hat. Shirts underneath the jersey had to be light blue.

Appearing on KNBR 680 Monday morning, broadcaster Mike Krukow was asked about the Giants' wearing blue against the Dodgers.

"What is up with that? Serious business. And the boys were not too happy about that," Krukow said before the phone connection cut out.

Why do MLB teams wear blue on Father's Day? It's to raise awareness for prostate cancer and raise money for research to fight the disease.

So the Giants may not have been thrilled about wearing the color of their arch rival, but it was for a good cause.

After beating the Dodgers on Sunday, the Giants are back home Monday where they open a 10-game homestand against the Marlins.