Shaun Anderson's audition as Giants' closer could last past this year

Shaun Anderson's audition as Giants' closer could last past this year

SAN FRANCISCO -- Every night, win or lose, the Giants' starting pitcher talks to reporters in front of a small wall covered with team logos. It's been a while since Shaun Anderson was called up there, and he smiled as reporters and cameras gathered late Tuesday night. 

"Funny to be back up here," Anderson said. 

You rarely find yourself surrounded by the media when you're pitching the sixth inning. But Anderson, a starter for much of the season, is back in the spotlight after working his way up in the bullpen pecking order. On Tuesday night he was the closer, and that might be the case for a bit longer. 

Will Smith had an MRI on his troublesome back Tuesday morning, and while it came back clean, the Giants aren't sure when Smith will return to the mound. For now, they're relying on younger relievers late in games, and Anderson will be part of that. After the rookie closed out a 5-4 win over the Pirates, manager Bruce Bochy said Anderson's role has shifted. 

"It's good to have him there (in the ninth) and we needed him," Bochy said. "What a nice job he did. He's comfortable there because of his experience pitching out of the bullpen. You look at how he's thrown the ball and we talked about it, that he would be the guy. He's got the experience there and he's got the weapons and the mentality to do it.

"I think you'll see him pitch later in the game now."

This is nothing new for Anderson. The staff at the University of Florida was so loaded with future top draft picks that the right-hander ended up being a closer, not a starter. He had 13 saves as a junior with a 0.97 ERA. 

Anderson was converted back to starting in the minors and the Giants were hopeful he could be a cost-effective rotation solution. But he was struggling even before a blister put him on the injured list, and he has returned as a reliever, at least for now.

Anderson entered Tuesday's game with a 3.86 ERA as a reliever and opened eyes over the weekend with a dominant frame against the Dodgers. He was sharp again Tuesday, showing increased velocity on his fastball -- mostly 95-96 mph out of the 'pen -- and a slider that's devastating in short bursts. He also showed that he wants this opportunity. 

"His tenacity, his demeanor, is very closer-ish," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "It's pretty impressive for a kid who got sent to the bullpen a few weeks ago. He wanted to close."

This is a short-term solution for a bullpen that has lost every notable arm to trade or injury. But it also could be part of the long-term plan. Smith will be a free agent, Tony Watson is likely to opt out of his deal, and Reyes Moronta may miss all of 2020 after shoulder surgery.

The Giants have a completely blank slate as they put together their next bullpen, and while veterans will be brought in, a young pitcher or two will need to step up and grab a marquee role. 

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The Giants have not publicly committed to shifting Anderson from starting to relieving full-time. But if he is in the bullpen, Anderson knows what inning he wants to pitch. 

"I think anyone who is in the bullpen wants those situations," he said of being the closer. "I'm ready for those situations. I'm hoping they give me opportunities. It was awesome closing in the big leagues. It's a big deal."

Alex Dickerson's bright future with Giants clouded by injury concerns


Alex Dickerson's bright future with Giants clouded by injury concerns

SAN FRANCISCO -- Once he hires a manager and general manager, Farhan Zaidi will turn to the heavy lifting. The main goal this offseason is to make the Giants lineup more competitive, particularly at home. It would be a lot easier to do that if the Giants knew exactly what they could count on from a midseason acquisition. 

Alex Dickerson changed the course of the season when he joined the Giants at Chase Field in late June against the Diamondbacks, bringing left-handed thunder to the lineup and life to the dugout as a struggling team briefly put it all together with a memorable July run. But Dickerson's season ended up going a familiar route.

He was available to Zaidi only because he had been unable to stay available for the Padres, and an oblique injury wrecked Dickerson's second half. 

That didn't leave a bad taste in his mouth, though. As Dickerson stood in front of his locker the final week of the season, he pointed out that he didn't play an inning in the big leagues the previous two seasons. 

"I just wanted to get out and compete again, and I knew there were going to be ups and downs," he said. 

The highs were game-changers for the Giants. Dickerson drove in six runs in his Giants debut and didn't slow down until he was forced to the Injured List the first week of August. In 30 games over that stretch, he hit .386 with six homers, 10 doubles, 23 RBI and a 1.222 OPS. The Giants went 20-10 when he was in the lineup. 

That's certainly not sustainable, but nothing about what Dickerson was doing looked particularly flukey, either. He has always flashed power and he showed good plate discipline and a short swing that first month. 

The oblique injury put a halt to all that, and when Dickerson returned, it was touch-and-go the rest of the way. He never felt quite comfortable, hitting .164 with three extra-base hits over his final 67 at-bats, which were scattered because he was able to start only 14 times the final six weeks. 

Looking back, Dickerson feels he returned earlier than he should have, but he has no regrets because the Giants were trying to stay in the race. He said his swing got out of whack and he was never able to find it again because he didn't go through a normal rehab process. 

There were positives, though. Dickerson's surgically-repaired back and elbow were not an issue, and he plans to be aggressive in attacking the oblique pain this offseason. Dickerson said he will do additional research and talk to as many experts as he can in an attempt to increase his core mobility and make sure the oblique pain does not return. For the first time in a long time, he's not rehabbing going into the offseason. That's a comforting feeling. 

"It'll just be a normal offseason and building up and getting in shape to hopefully play a full season next year," he said. 

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Given Dickerson's history -- he has never played more than 84 games -- the Giants can't count on a full year. But they're hopeful that Dickerson, who is arbitration-eligible and a lock to return, can be part of the solution. They can manage his health as long as that bat is still helping win games. 

"With the impact potential he showed, he's going to play as much as his body will allow," Zaidi said. 

MLB rumors: Giants interested in Astros' Joe Espada for manager role

MLB rumors: Giants interested in Astros' Joe Espada for manager role

Go ahead and add another name to the candidacy list to take over the Giants' managerial role after Bruce Bochy announced his retirement following the 2019 season.

San Francisco reportedly has asked the Houston Astros for permission to speak to Joe Espada, according to MLB Network's Jon Heyman. Espada also is a candidate for the Cubs' managing job.

Espada, 44, currently is the bench coach for the Astros. His background before joining Houston includes a stint with the New York Yankees as the special assistant to general manager Brian Cashman in 2014, where he later was named the team's third-base coach. Before that, he was the third base coach for the Miami Marlins.  

He also coached the Puerto Rican team in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. 

Espada was drafted by the Oakland A's in the second round of the 1996 MLB Draft and spent a decade playing internationally and made it through to Triple-A.

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He joins a list of potential Giants managers that includes Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro, former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler and A's quality control coach Mark Kotsay ... to name a few.

As Heyman points out, this is a younger group of candidates, which appears to be the theme across the board for Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi.

There surely will be many more names to come before we know who will man the Giants' dugout in 2020.