Giants

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."

Gabe Kapler's faith in Hunter Pence, veterans pays off in Giants' win

Gabe Kapler's faith in Hunter Pence, veterans pays off in Giants' win

Twice a day, every day, Gabe Kapler logs onto Zoom to talk to reporters. You could search and search through those hours of film and you'd have a hard time finding many moments when Kapler was even a little bit negative. 

Ask Kapler about Hunter Pence's massive struggles and he'll say he believes in the track record and the work Pence is putting in behind the scenes. Ask about the slumping Brandons and he'll say the swings are better than the results. Ask why he has so much faith in Tyler Rogers, who has gotten rocked early on this year, and he'll say that the submariner is his Swiss Army Knife and remains a valuable weapon in late innings. 

After Monday night's loss, one in which the Giants flirted with getting no-hit and committed three more errors, Kapler sat down and took all the hard questions, then asked if he could make a statement before his time was up. He talked about how great Austin Slater's batting practice was earlier in the day. 

Kapler has shown tremendous faith in a group whose play on the field often begs for more turnover, and in Tuesday's 7-6 comeback win over the Astros, that faith was rewarded. 

Pence, 2-for-32 at the time, hit a three-run homer in the seventh. Brandon Crawford, hitting just .204 this year, had the game-winning hit in the 10th. Rogers entered with an 11.88 ERA and stranded a runner in scoring position for his first career save. Tyler Heineman, who has taken some heat for three catcher interference calls this season, picked up his own save by gloving a wild breaking ball with the tying run on third. 

"He has expressed confidence and understands that these kinds of things go on in baseball and it's about the process, it's about doing the work and having good approaches," Pence said of Kapler. "I'm really enjoying a lot of work these hitting (coaches) have done and also the support of Kap. It's been really a big lift for me."

While Pence has seen all the highs and lows one can expect in this game, Rogers, a second-year reliever, is dealing with his first real doubt in the big leagues. He pitched well in Triple-A, dominated in a September call-up, and had two camps this year that were so impressive he looked like a potential closer. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

But Rogers has had high-profile blowups in the first three weeks of his first full season. After he gave up a game-swinging homer to A.J. Pollock in Los Angeles on Sunday, Kapler approached the reliever. 

"He came to me and was like, 'I haven't lost any confidence in you, you're still one of my guys,'" Rogers said. "That's big when a manager does that. After a couple tough games, to be able to validate his decision tonight to put me back in there was just rewarding for me."

Rogers took the mound the first time the Giants ever dealt with the new extra-innings rule, a game that ended up being an embarrassing loss. The Giants gave up six runs in the top of the 10th that night and Kapler pulled Rogers when he wasn't allowed to, a move he later apologized for. Given another shot, though, he went right back to Rogers. 

"I tell you what, it was good to get another crack at it," Rogers said. 

With George Springer on second, Rogers got a grounder and two strikeouts to pick up his first save. His twin brother, Taylor, has 36 of them in the big leagues, and you can bet at some point Kapler will give his version another shot at closing the gap. 

[RELATED: How Slater's adjustment hints at a breakout with Giants]

There will be nights when Kapler pays dearly for being so loyal. He already has several times this season. But on Tuesday, it all led to perhaps the best win of the year for a team that's proven to be pretty resilient. 

"We've been scoring a lot of runs late," Pence said. "We do have a team mindset of keep fighting, be as scrappy as we can, grit it out and keep going."

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 7-6 win vs. Astros

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 7-6 win vs. Astros

BOX SCORE

The Giants' second experience with the new extra-innings rule was considerably better than the first. San Francisco completed a huge comeback in the ninth and held on in the 10th for a 7-6 win over the Astros, bringing the placed runner home in the top half and then stranding him in the bottom of the inning. 

The Giants started the 10th with Wilmer Flores on second and Brandon Crawford brought him home. George Springer started the bottom of the inning on second but Tyler Rogers stranded him on third for his first career save. 

A night after a comeback attempt fell just short in the ninth, the Giants trailed 6-2 after six but tied it up. Hunter Pence hit a huge homer in the seventh and his single pushed the tying run to third in the ninth. Darin Ruf found a hole on the left side, completing the comeback. 

Welcome Home 

Pence started his career in Houston and spends his offseasons there. He even has a coffee shop in the city. It was the perfect spot, then, for Pence to finally get going. 

Gabe Kapler sent him up with two outs in the seventh and Pence lined it the other way, sneaking a three-run shot just over the wall in right as Josh Reddick's jump came up a few inches short. The homer, Pence's first of the year, cut a four-run deficit to one. It was the fourth pinch-hit homer of Pence's career. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

A (Bad) Record 

When Alex Bregman took Tyler Anderson deep in the fourth, it marked the 15th consecutive game that the Giants had allowed a home run, a franchise record. Three previous Giants teams had allowed a homer in 14 straight. The staff entered the night with 28 home runs allowed, which was tied for the Mariners for second-most in the majors. The Diamondbacks had allowed an astounding 39 homers coming into play Tuesday. 

[RELATED: How Slater's adjustment hints at a breakout with Giants]

More Pitching Issues 

Anderson was good in Denver, but Houston wasn't so kind. The left-hander was charged with four earned in five innings, walking three and striking out two. Most of the damage was done in the second, when the Astros scored three runs on doubles by Martin Maldonado and Reddick. 

Rico Garcia followed Anderson and continued his slide. The hard-throwing right-hander gave up two runs on five hits and was saved from more trouble by a slick double play by Evan Longoria. After starting his Giants career with six scoreless outings, Garcia has allowed five earned in his last three appearances and recorded just five outs.