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Why Giants brought back old friend Watson at trade deadline

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Tony Watson

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Kris Bryant blockbuster partially obscured a second trade the Giants made at the buzzer on Friday. They sent Sam Selman and pitching prospects Ivan Armstrong and Jose Marte to the Los Angeles Angels for Tony Watson, a Giant the past three seasons and a valuable late-innings weapon for Gabe Kapler in 2020. 

Watson was not brought back in the offseason, with the Giants signing Jake McGee to be their closer and adding Jose Alvarez to a group of left-handed relievers that has been one of the roster's strengths this season. From the start of June through the trade deadline, McGee, Alvarez and Jarlin Garcia had allowed just six earned runs in 59 2/3 innings, and promising young lefty Sammy Long also is now in the bullpen.

The need wasn't obvious, but the Giants still wanted another veteran lefty in their bullpen down the stretch, and they were intrigued as Watson's stuff ticked up in recent weeks. 

"The last couple of weeks he's been feeling good and we've been kind of watching his velocity creep up to the 92-94 (mph) range, which is really a great sign for him. Even at one or two ticks below that he can be a really effective reliever," president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. "When he's got plus velocity to go along with that changeup and the command he has, he can get big outs for you."

Zaidi cited those recent looks, along with the fact that the 36-year-old is "really well-known and popular in this clubhouse" and has been tested in the postseason already. Before signing with the Giants in 2018, Watson pitched for Zaidi's Los Angeles Dodgers on a club that went to the World Series. 

 

Watson was in camp with the Philadelphia Phillies this year but wasn't going to make the Opening Day roster. He opted out and ended up in Los Angeles, where he has posted a 4.64 ERA and 4.10 FIP. 

Watson has gotten plenty of soft contact, ranking in the 92nd percentile among MLB pitchers in exit velocity allowed. The average velocity on his fastball is up two mph from last season, when he dealt with shoulder tightness in camp. Even without his best stuff last year, Watson posted a 2.50 ERA in 21 appearances. 

"I think we saw a very competitive, savvy individual out of the pen for us last year," Kapler said. "He pitched really big innings for us and was incredibly dependable and instilled a lot of confidence. I think his stuff is better now than it was last year. I think he's healthier and fresher than he was last year. I think he looks better, he feels better. 

"It's another good left-handed weapon for us out of the 'pen and I think everybody knows that we face lineups with a lot of good left-handed hitters. I think he's going to be valuable for us."

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Watson was the only pitcher added at the deadline and he should see plenty of action in the Giants' biggest games. The Dodgers, in particular, stand out, with left-handed-hitters Max Muncy, Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger in their everyday lineup. 

"We're going to have a lot of important games down the stretch and his influence and demeanor, I think, is really an example that we want to have set," Zaidi said. "We know last year he had a great season for us even though the pure stuff wasn't where it was in the past. He wasn't 100 percent physically and still did a great job."

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