Why Giants brought in umpires for second round of bullpen sessions

Why Giants brought in umpires for second round of bullpen sessions

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When Andrew Suarez kicked at the dirt on the bullpen mound Saturday and looked in at his catcher, most of what he saw was similar to every other bullpen session of his life. There was one key difference, though: An umpire in full uniform crouched behind the catcher.

Suarez fired a fastball, and the umpire emphatically pointed a finger to his left, signaling a strike. 

"It was different, but I liked it," Suarez said. "You get a good feel for the plate."

The Giants have made a lot of subtle changes to drills under manager Gabe Kapler and a 13-person coaching staff. Pitchers fielded pop-ups Sunday, an extreme rarity in a sport where the default move for a pitcher is to get out of the way and let an infielder take over. The outfield drills more closely resemble the NFL combine, with cones meticulously set up and coaches focusing on change-of-direction. But the biggest difference through a week of camp has been the addition of three real professional umpires to bullpen sessions.

The Giants brought the umpires, who live locally, in for their second round of bullpen sessions. They have four mounds going at a time and pitchers could opt out if they preferred to just throw to a catcher, but they seemed to enjoy the extra touch of intensity. Kapler said it was something he did in Philadelphia. 

"The concept obviously is to try to create heightened awareness and add a little competition to it," Kapler said.

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When Andrew Bailey met with coaches earlier this month, one thing the new pitching coach preached was making sure every pitch of every bullpen session had a purpose. The Giants record every session and pitchers can stop to watch video or get the spin rate or velocity on a previous pitch. The hope was that the addition of umpires would ramp up the intensity a bit, but Kapler said it wasn't just designed for pitchers. 

"The catchers are getting some feedback," Kapler said. "The bullpen sessions are as much for the catchers as they are for the pitchers, and you see how much attention and emphasis our catching coaches are putting on receiving. I think it's been good so far."

Giants release several veterans, including lefty reliever Jerry Blevins


Giants release several veterans, including lefty reliever Jerry Blevins

Major League Baseball put a freeze on transactions when an agreement was reached between MLB and the Players Association, but before that happened the Giants reportedly released several veterans, including one who came to camp with a decent shot at winning a job. 

Left-hander Jerry Blevins was one of 17 players released by the organization between March 1 and April 1, according to Baseball America. Blevins, who has pitched in the big leagues for 13 seasons, had allowed nine earned runs in 3 2/3 Cactus League innings before baseball went on break because of COVID-19. He entered camp with a shot at winning a job as a lefty in the bullpen, but the Giants got dominant spring performances from Wandy Peralta and Jarlin Garcia, who should join Tony Watson whenever the season resumes. 

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The Giants also released right-hander Matt Carasiti, who was throwing well in camp before his elbow flared up, leading to Tommy John surgery. Rehabbing pitchers often re-sign with the team on a different contract, although it's unclear if the plan is for Carasiti to do that. Brandon Guyer also stood out on the list. The veteran was signed as a depth outfielder who can hit lefties well, although he was not in big league camp. 

The others released were right-handers Jamie Callahan, Israel Cruz, Dylan Davis, Logan Harasta, Trevor Horn, Andy Rohloff and Ben Strahm; lefty Deiyerbert Bolivar; catcher Chris Corbett; second baseman Kyle McPherson; and outfielders Gio Brusa, Mikey Edie, Jose Layer and Randy Norris. Brusa. 

Blevins and Carasiti were the only players on the list who were in big league camp. 

Giants GM Scott Harris explains how he envisions outfield this season

Giants GM Scott Harris explains how he envisions outfield this season

Every great athlete, every great coach and every great team wants consistency from their performance every game. That doesn't mean there has to be consistency in the lineup. 

Giants manager Gabe Kapler might not go more than two or three games of trotting out the same lineup when baseball eventually returns. Kapler is a master at wanting to get the best out of his players and the nine men he puts on the field. The skipper will platoon players, no matter how many years they have in the big leagues. 

General manager Scott Harris and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi were tasked with signing players for Kapler to deploy. One of the biggest questions for the manager is how he will use a handful of outfielders. 

Harris believes the Giants' roster sets up nicely for Kapler to get the best out of his guys. 

"We're trying to give Gabe the ability to match up and a great example of that is left field," Harris said Thursday on KNBR's "Murph & Mac" show. "Hunter Pence and Alex Dickerson really complement each other and we can deploy them in the right situation and come to the plate with favorable matchups and hopefully see some success out of it.

"We're gonna be able to throw out some very different lineups against left-handed pitching and right-handed pitching." 

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Pence, a right-handed hitter crushes left-handed pitching. The four-time All-Star hit .327 with eight homers against lefties last year with the Texas Rangers. Dickerson, a left-handed hitter, knocked all six of his dingers against right-handed pitchers last year. 

Kapler also will have to figure out how and when to use players like Mike Yastrzemski, Mauricio Dubon, Jaylin Davis, Austin Slater and Bill Hamilton. Davis often gets lost in the conversation after a slow start this spring and struggling after his MLB debut last season. The powerful right-handed bat hit 35 (!) long balls last season and Harris made it clear the Giants believe in him. 

"We're really excited about him and think he has a really bright future," Davis said. 

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Kapler and the Giants have plenty of questions to be answered this season -- if a season is played -- but his lineup likely will have a different answer every few games.