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Why Giants added Yamaguchi to their pitching competition

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MLB teams have spent most of the last five months trying to figure out what to make of the 60-game 2020 season. When it comes to one of their latest additions, the Giants decided to just about throw it out. 

Right-hander Shun Yamaguchi pitched 25 2/3 innings for the Toronto Blue Jays last summer and gave up 23 runs on 28 hits and 17 walks, but the Giants are counting on his track record after adding him to camp as a non-roster invitee.

Yamaguchi was a star in Japan before coming over to MLB, and it's only been about 13 months since the Blue Jays paid a transfer fee and gave Yamaguchi $6.35 million over two years to see if he could carry his previous success over to MLB. The Blue Jays released Yamaguchi last weekend and are on the hook for the remainder of that deal, so the Giants will take a free look at him for a month and if he ends up in their rotation or bullpen at some point, they'll be paying the MLB minimum. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said the Giants see Yamaguchi as a pitcher who has the weapons to fill multiple roles. 

"He's a guy that our international scouts had seen a lot of over in Japan," Zaidi said. "He had a tremendous season in 2019 in Japan and has a long track record of both starting and relieving, but his 2019 season in Japan, his stat line was very impressive.

"It's an experienced starter who we have a track record of scouting in Japan who can pitch in a number of roles."

 

Zaidi said the 33-year-old will get stretched out as a starter for now, although the Giants don't appear to have a rotation spot open after adding Aaron Sanchez this week. Yamaguchi started his career as a star closer for the Yokohama BayStars but transitioned to the rotation over time. In 2019, his last season before getting posted, he had a 2.78 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 181 innings and struck out 194 batters. 

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The Giants are looking back at that success, and they're well aware of the fact that Yamaguchi came over to the United States at about the worst possible time. The Blue Jays didn't even play in Toronto last year and the entire season was a whirlwind for even the most experienced big leaguers. Yamaguchi's overall numbers weren't good, but there were some things to like. He throws both his fastball and splitter about 40 percent of the time, and while his fastball was hit hard, opponents batted just .222 and slugged .318 against the splitter. 

The Giants will take a long look this spring, although in about a month they'll have to make a decision. Yamaguchi will have an assignment clause in his contract and might be traded elsewhere in late March if he doesn't pitch his way onto the Opening Day roster. It would be unusual for someone who spent 14 years pitching professionally in Japan to accept an assignment to Triple-A, although Zaidi said Yamaguchi "hasn't totally closed the door" on that possibility. 

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