Last year, the ninth inning was something of a no-man’s land for the Giants.
No pitcher compiled more than four saves, Trevor Gott struggled mightily and manager Gabe Kapler never found a reliable arm to return to on a daily basis. During a recent chat with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser, Kapler discussed a couple of front-runners for the job heading into 2021.
“I think a couple of guys that stand out are Tyler Rogers, he did a really nice job in high-leverage spots,” Kapler told Slusser on The Chronicle's "Giants Splash" podcast. “Caleb Baragar is a guy who can take down some leverage innings for us. One of the things I’ll say about the closer’s role, is that it’s always up for grabs. We are always looking for somebody to take control of that role.”
Rogers followed up his stellar 2019 season with a subpar 2020, posting a 4.50 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 29 appearances, mostly coming in the seventh and eighth innings. With a fastball that tops out at about 83 mph, the submarining 30-year-old doesn’t fit the traditional profile of a closer. Still, he racked up 27 strikeouts while walking just six batters in 28 innings last year. He also earned three saves.
Baragar, 26, brings a bit more heat with his 94 mph fastball while also mixing in his slider and curveball. In his first MLB season, Baragar was used in more mid-game situations and never pitched for a ninth-inning save. He posted a 4.03 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and struck out 19 in 22 1/3 innings, allowing just 17 hits all season.
Earlier this offseason, Kapler also mentioned Reyes Moronta as a possibility. The closer’s role remains one of the biggest question marks for Kapler, who said most of the field positions are already settled at this point. He also mentioned there is some jockeying to be done for roles in the rotation.
But it appears the Giants will go into the season with the same back-end bullpen strategy as last year despite the poor results.
“Last year, we just didn’t have that person step up and take control of that role,” Kapler told Slusser. “It’s not a role that you just give to one individual. It’s very much earned. … Short of the elite closers in the game, you always want to walk into this with that being an open spot where somebody’s going to grab control of it and say, ‘This is my job.’ ”
It appears to be a wait-and-see strategy for the Giants, who are still trying to fill a void left by Will Smith’s departure following the 2019 season. Spring training begins Wednesday as pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Scottsdale, Ariz.