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. 

[RELATED: Cueto reminded Giants of Johnny of old in season debut]

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."

Travis Ishikawa didn't expect Giants call-up before 2014 MLB playoffs

Travis Ishikawa didn't expect Giants call-up before 2014 MLB playoffs

Travis Ishikawa provided one of the most memorable postseason moments in Giants history, blasting a three-run walk-off homer in Game 5 of the NLCS to advance San Francisco to the 2014 World Series.

It was Ishikawa’s second stint with the organization after making his MLB debut with the Giants back in 2006. In a recent appearance on 95.7 The Game, the now-retired first baseman said he wasn’t even sure he’d get a chance to play in the majors during that 2014 season.

“At that moment, I felt like there was no possible way I was getting called up,” Ishikawa said Friday. “I was struggling, [and] at one point, I was actually benched. I was a backup for about two weeks in Fresno, wasn’t even getting starts. Being a defensive replacement for somebody else at first base.

“They’ve got other guys that kind of do what I do, they don’t need me. I mean, there’s no way I see myself getting called up.”

[RELATED: Giants extend stipends for most minor leaguers but release 20 players]

Ishikawa ended up being called up to the Giants on July 29, and the rest, as they say, is history. The Giants' Triple-A team at the time was the Fresno Grizzlies, and the organization switched over to the Sacramento River Cats in 2015.

Ishikawa ended up winning two World Series titles in San Francisco (he also was on the 2010 Giants roster), but there likely isn’t a more thrilling moment in his baseball career than that fateful night in McCovey Cove.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Giants extend stipends for most minor leaguers but release 20 players

Giants extend stipends for most minor leaguers but release 20 players

The end of the month brought a bit of good news for most Giants minor leaguers, but a potentially career-ending blow for 20 of them.

The Giants have extended their stipend program for minor leaguers through at least June 30, continuing to guarantee them $400 per week. At the same time, 20 minor league players were released Thursday, continuing a trend around the game.

The releases were not a surprise and did not involve any elite prospects. The players being let go around the game right now -- some estimates are that it could be more than 1,000 minor leaguers -- generally are players who were filling out minor league rosters and had slim chances of soon reaching the big leagues. But this is still a rough time for those players, many of whom will see their dreams end this year as the sport deals with the fallout from the coronavirus (COVID-19).

With the draft shortened to five rounds and more than 40 minor league clubs already on the chopping block entering the season, big changes are expected over the next year regarding minor league baseball. Teams generally release prospects at the end of the spring and again before signing a new class of draft picks, but this year's group is larger than past ones. Baseball-America did research that showed teams release 22-25 minor leaguers through May in typical years, with 30-35 still falling in a normal range. The Giants had previously released 17 players in March.

[RELATED: Could Luciano make Giants roster? Zaidi considering it]

While there are some teams that have released significantly more prospects in recent days, others have committed to keeping all of their minor leaguers through the end of what would have been the minor league season. The Giants, by using June 30 as a date for extended pay, fall in line with most of the rest of the sport thus far, although they certainly have the resources to extend the program through August or even later at some point. 

The A's had previously informed minor leaguers that they will not pay players past May 31. When COVID-19 first shut down the sport, MLB announced stipends across the minors through that date.  

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]