Sam Coonrod, Giants' relievers make it look easy in extra-innings win


SAN FRANCISCO -- As Sam Coonrod jogged to the mound for his fifth big league appearance, one that very likely was the most high-stress outing of his life, Cubs star Javier Baez inched closer to the plate. Kris Bryant stepped into the on-deck circle. Anthony Rizzo grabbed his bat and climbed the steps of the dugout. 

That's about as imposing as it gets in the NL. And Coonrod didn't care one bit. 

"I tried not to worry about that," the Giants' rookie right-hander said quietly a few minutes later. "I try not to pay attention to it."

Coonrod's journey to the big leagues has been a long one, and at times it has been stalled by injuries, including Tommy John surgery just as he seemed ready to break through. But along the way he has learned a few important things. Ryan Vogelsong, now an instructor in the organization, taught Coonrod to focus on his catcher, not the guys in the opposing lineup. Someone at some point -- possibly many someones -- taught Coonrod to come up and simply trust Buster Posey.

"Buster knows a lot better than I know," Coonrod said.

Posey put the signs down and Coonrod opened eyes while obeying. He struck out Baez on a 97 mph fastball, got Bryant swinging through 99 mph, and induced a harmless grounder from Rizzo. When Pablo Sandoval went deep in the bottom of the 13th, Coonrod had his first big league win, one that filled him with raw emotions that were still evident after the win. 


The win was the 17th in 20 games, and the bullpen has carried the heaviest load in recent days. The Giants have won in extra innings five times in the last eight games. They have played 15 extra frames on this homestand alone, and it's a daily shuffle to find fresh arms. 

Will Smith couldn't be used Monday. Sam Dyson and Trevor Gott were in that situation Tuesday. So Smith threw two innings and Mark Melancon threw two more. Coonrod was going to go a second inning and then turn the ball over to Drew Pomeranz, who aired it out in two innings Monday.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy really, really did not want to use Pomeranz, and he didn't have to. Coonrod made it look easy. 

"He was good, wasn't he?" Bochy said. "He was really good. In that situation, high-leverage, and the way he handled himself -- the stuff he had was really impressive. You look at what this young kid did. That's the first time he's been in that situation."

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This type of usage will not be sustainable for the Giants, especially if they deal from that bullpen depth. That remains an open question before the July 31 MLB trade deadline, but for now the relievers aren't focused on who might go. They show up every day, play catch, take inventory of what hurts, and put up zeros until a hitter can send everyone home. 

"It's incredible," Madison Bumgarner said. "We've got a lot of good arms to throw at you and put on you there. They've shown that. They've shown how they've pitched under high stress situations. We feel like anybody you run out there is going to get the job done, and they have."