Rewind: 'Confident' bullpen clinches a series win for Giants


Rewind: 'Confident' bullpen clinches a series win for Giants

MIAMI — Derek Law did his best to downplay the significance of the full inning he pitched Wednesday, saying he doesn’t care when he pitches. 

“I’ll do whatever they need,” the rookie reliever said, smiling. “If they put me in the first, I’ll be happy with it.”

Law didn’t need to magnify his appearance. The box score did it for him. Bruce Bochy turned to two young right-handers — Law and Hunter Strickland — to get the ball to his closer, and they were once again dominant. The surging bullpen got 10 outs in a 1-0 victory over the Marlins that clinched the first series win of the second half. As other problems have popped up, the relievers have found a collective groove. At this point, they’re Bochy’s most consistent group.

“They really have grown through this,” Bochy said. “You look at Strickland and Law’s work, but really, all of them are throwing well.”

The Giants went 4-5 on the three-city trip and lost their firm hold on first place in the West, but Bochy at least flew home Wednesday feeling confident in a bullpen he’ll use often in tight games down the stretch. The relievers pitched 30 1/3 innings on the trip and allowed just 21 hits and one homer. They struck out 29, combining for a 2.37 ERA and .196 opponents average. Over the past seven games, the bullpen ERA is 0.99.

“Everyone is confident and everyone is healthy,” Strickland said. “We know the stakes and what we have to do. That’s what it’s all about, that’s what we’re looking forward to — the grind, the run.”

Strickland’s eyes lit up when he was asked about pitching in close games in September. He wants to be in those tights spots, and Bochy will certainly use him often. Before Wednesday’s game, Bochy noted that Strickland is so strong physically that the staff doesn’t worry much about his workload. Strickland then went out and got two outs in the seventh, extending his scoreless streak to nine games. Over his last 24 appearances, Strickland has a 1.58 ERA. His highlight of the trip came Monday, when he struck out Giancarlo Stanton on three straight breaking balls.

“It’s huge for me,” he said of the ability to mix it up. “Obviously guys are going up there looking for the fastball.” 

Strickland sits at 98-99 mph most nights and Law is a few ticks below that. But he’s been just as stingy while mixing it up with four pitches. Law is working on a scoreless streak of 17 appearances. 

“He’s unbelievable,” Strickland said. “The numbers speak for themselves.”

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Law has gradually moved up the pecking order, and Wednesday felt like a day you circle on the calendar for future reference. Bochy sent Law out for the eighth with a one-run lead and nobody warming up. Javier Lopez got loose as Christian Yelich’s spot approached, but Law got two quick outs so Bochy stuck with him against one of the game’s best left-handed hitters. Yelich grounded out to second. 

“He’s throwing the ball so well and he’s got the weapons to get lefties, too,” Bochy said. “We did have help for him if a couple guys somehow got on, but he really has gained confidence and is on with all his pitches. He’s just really throwing the ball so well.”

Bochy didn’t publicly say that there’s been a change in the way he’ll handle the late innings, and that’s really not his style. But it’s clear that Law is now an eighth-inning guy in front of Santiago Casilla, who locked up his 14th save in the last 15 chances. 

“He’s going to be a big part of the late-inning situations,” Bochy said, adding that he'll use others in the right matchups. 

It seems likely that the two right-handers will split the eighth and ninth innings in some form next year. For now, Strickland and Law are charged with getting leads to Casilla, and they’re looking comfortable in that role. 

“They’re locating their pitches right now, both of them,” shortstop Brandon Crawford said. “Strickland was upper 90s today and locating the fastball away, and the slider kind of makes him unhittable at times. Law throws anything at you and will throw it for a strike. That’s big with young guys, the location on both sides of the plate.”

Crawford continued his red-hot stretch with the only offense of the day. He hit a solo homer off David Phelps, who played a season at Notre Dame with Jeff Samardzija. The struggling right-hander had his best start in weeks, allowing just three hits in 5 2/3 innings. In the biggest spot, Samardzija came through with a good approach. Giancarlo Stanton pinch-hit with two on in the fifth and Samardzija fed him a steady stream of breaking balls away.

“One bad pitch and you’re looking at a hole in the wall,” Samardzija said of Stanton.

A 3-1 slider was flied harmlessly to center and the Giants would cruise to the finish. They still are not firing on all cylinders, not even close. The lineup scored one run over the past two games and the rotation has been a question mark over the past month. 

But the Giants have a much-needed off day to regroup and then a long homestand. They are hopeful they can iron out the rest of their issues. At the very least, it appears that the bullpen is ready for the stretch run.

“We’ve got some pretty fearless guys down there,” Samardzija said, “And that’s good.”

Giants Mailbag: Could young starting pitchers be headed for bullpen?

Giants Mailbag: Could young starting pitchers be headed for bullpen?

While the Bay Area focused on the 49ers this week, the Giants had their eyes on a different patch of grass. They're currently holding their developmental camp in Scottsdale, giving prospects an early chance to impress before the real fun starts next month:

We're two weeks from FanFest, and a few days after that, the players will actually take the field under new manager Gabe Kapler for the first time. Baseball season is coming fast, so let's run through another round of Giants questions (from my Instagram followers) as we wait for pitchers and catchers to report ... 

"In all seriousness Alex -- why should I watch/spend money on the Giants in 2020?" -- erniepomin

Well, first of all, we have a new state-of-the-art set that'll allow us to do a lot of cool things on the pre-game show next season, so that's a start. Plus, Kruk and Kuip! Come on, that's all you need. 

As for the team, I've long said that I'll never tell people how to spend their money when it comes to the Giants. It can get expensive, so if you'd prefer to sit out a couple years, you have every right to do so. But, I do think this season is going to be more interesting than the past couple. 

I happen to think "youth breaking through" is an intriguing storyline, so shortstop Mauricio Dubon and pitchers Tyler Beede and Logan Webb could provide plenty of reasons to watch early on. Catcher Joey Bart will be up at some point this year, and there's a chance that somebody like outfielder Jaylin Davis or infielder Chris Shaw finally puts it together.

Every Johnny Cueto start has the chance to provide plenty of entertainment regardless of the team's record.

Regardless of your feelings about Gabe Kapler, I do think it'll be interesting watching a different manager pull the levers for the first time in over a decade. If you're tuning in expecting to watch a win, you'll be disappointed more often than not. But if you try and view this as the start of something, I think you'll have a lot more fun in 2020. 

Are the Giants one of the rumored teams to have made a multi-year offer to Ozuna?" -- mgmatter17

I never once heard of any interest in Marcell Ozuna this offseason, and the fit wasn't really there. He's a good player, but not a game-changer, the type you re-arrange all your (rebuild) plans for. And if he was looking to re-establish his value as a power hitter, Oracle Park is a terrible place to play. 

"Is Sean Hjelle going to be one of the main focuses for at least early spring training?" -- aedinbratton18

Hjelle, the organization's top pitching prospect, is always going to be a focus purely because of his height. You can bet that early in camp someone will tweet out a photo of him dwarfing his fellow pitchers. 

But seriously, he will get plenty of attention for what he's capable of. He spent limited time in San Jose so we haven't really seen much of him, and it's going to be fascinating to see what his mechanics look like in early bullpen sessions. Hopefully, he's able to get into a game or two before getting sent to minor league camp. 

"Who will be the Giants' ace now that Bum is gone?" -- dianebertocchinoonan

Cueto has done it before, but he is coming back from Tommy John and there's a decent chance he gets traded before the end of his deal. Long term, this is a hell of a question.

Beede and Webb have the stuff to get there eventually and Hjelle is their top pitching prospect, but the organization is pretty thin on high-end starting pitching. I don't think you can look at anyone the Giants have right now and think, "He's going to start on Opening Day in 2022."

"If Beede or Webb don't make the rotation, do you think they'd let them pitch out of the bullpen?" -- _juanvillaseno_

This is a question we'll legitimately be asking in a couple weeks, because Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Drew Smyly and Kevin Gausman have the inside track on four spots. Either one of these young guys could be a good bullpen piece, but the Giants aren't ready to go there. 

They really made a commitment last year to giving Beede a shot in the rotation, even when he had some brutal starts, and he showed what he's capable of at times. The Giants are going to give him every opportunity to make the rotation his long-term home. As for Webb, there's been enough "innings limit" talk this offseason that it seems likely he starts the year in the minors, but he's definitely still a starter. 

[RELATED: Giants sign veteran Drew Smyly]

The caveat here is that I do think the Giants will try some new things this year, using semi-regular openers and potentially "piggybacking" guys, allowing them to go 3-4 innings at a time. That might lead to some "relief" appearances for young starters. 

"Why will Logan Webb have an innings limit this season?" -- tyler.j.burton

Webb threw 104 2/3 innings in 2018 but was limited to 103 across all levels last season because of the suspension. Ideally, he would have gotten around 130-140 last year, but that wasn't possible, so the Giants will hold him back a bit this season so he's not jumping from 103 to 160-170. 

Remember, he just turned 23. His health is a priority right now, even if that costs him some time in the Majors. 

"Will ticket prices drop this season with the current state of the team?" -- rioscristian15

I'm not sure of exact rates -- the Giants usually talk about that side of the business at their media day in March. I will say, it's pretty easy to find a cheap ticket to a game on the secondary market during the season. A lot of fans told me they were getting in for like $6 the last couple of seasons. Take advantage of the lack of interest while you can. 

"Which core veteran player is most likely to have a good bounce-back year?" -- shockmaan

I know the staff is really excited about working with Brandon Belt and there's a belief that Buster Posey will be much more productive after a normal offseason. I don't know which veteran is most likely to bounce back, but I will say I'm most curious to see what kind of season Brandon Crawford turns in. 

He's 33 now, but he's athletic enough that the age shouldn't be an issue yet, and he's not far removed from All-Star caliber play. Crawford hit .292./.363/.462 in the first half of 2018 and basically carried the lineup for weeks at a time. There are newcomers to the organization who have looked back at that stretch to see what the difference was, because it really wasn't that long ago. 

"Any way to find out if they are adding anything crazy to the menu like a 25-inch corndog?" -- takem84

The Giants traditionally unveil new menu items and giveaways at their media day. Last year, I asked my bosses if a cameraman could follow me around as I ate every single thing at the stadium and they somehow said yes. That ultimately led to me standing in the heat at SunTrust Park eating a burger covered in chicken tenders, nacho cheese and tater tots. Life comes at you fast. 

"Favorite restaurant to hit up during spring training?" -- uscgabe

The lock of the spring is that every Giants beat writer and a dozen team employees will be at ChopShop after the first team workout on February 12. That's the go-to for lunch, and The Mission is the place you have to hit up for dinner. I also try to visit Rudy's BBQ a couple of times because it's a Texas treasure that has somehow found its way to Arizona.

(Full disclosure: There's a Chick-fil-A outside half the Cactus League ballparks and a Shake Shack in the Scottsdale mall, so spring training is peak "This place doesn't exist in San Francisco so I might as well go here 17 times while I'm in Scottsdale" season.)

MLB rumors: Giants sign Korean-leaguer Darin Ruf to minor-league deal

MLB rumors: Giants sign Korean-leaguer Darin Ruf to minor-league deal

The Giants reportedly have signed first baseman and outfielder Darin Ruf to a minor league contract.

The Athletic's Jayson Stark was the first with the news on Ruf who spent the last three seasons playing in Korea.

The 33-year-old batted .313/.404/.564 with 86 home runs, a .968 OPS and 350 RBI in 404 games across those seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization. He certainly made an impression overseas.

Ruf was drafted by the Phillies in the 20th round of the 2009 MLB Draft and played in the organization for five seasons. His numbers weren't anything to brag about when he hit .240/.314/.433 with 35 homers and 96 RBI from 2012-16.

He was part of a trade in 2016 with the Los Angeles Dodgers that sent him and Darnell Sweeney to LA for All-Star infielder Howie Kendrick.

[RELATED: Zaidi expects Giants to be aggressive promoting top prospects]

Ruf was then released by the Dodgers in February of 2017. 

His contract reportedly will also include an invite to major league spring training.