Why Giants might decide to experiment with younger pitchers in 2020

Why Giants might decide to experiment with younger pitchers in 2020

The opener officially came to San Francisco last year, but the implementation was short-lived.

Nick Vincent got shelled in one start, and the Giants didn’t use the strategy again, but that doesn’t mean they’re done with it.

Whether it’s an opener, piggybacking starters, or some new model the game hasn’t seen yet, you can bet the Giants are discussing creative ways to use their young pitching staff in 2020.

One year after he made waves at the Winter Meetings by mentioning the positives of an opener, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi brought up another possibility when asked about MLB adding a 26th player to rosters and enforcing a three-batter minimum. 

“I think pitchers are understanding the rules are changing. They’re more open to less conventional roles and they’re understanding that strategies may evolve,” Zaidi said.

“Obviously we did a little bit of that last year and had some conversations with guys. There’s always been a notion that the kind of hybrid starter-reliever -- the 100-, 120-inning guy who maybe goes three innings 30 or 40 times a year -- as the game evolves, that might become more of a niche. I think with some of these rule changes you might see more of that. 

“That’s a nice role for young starters to get their feet wet in the big leagues but it also might be a nice long-term role for some of these guys to have that skill set.”

The Giants seem well-positioned to experiment, and the organization actually has had plenty of previous conversations about a hybrid. When Tim Lincecum started to struggle late in his career, there was talk that he could excel as a 120-inning reliever. Last year, the Giants discussed using Drew Pomeranz after an opener. He ultimately was moved to the bullpen and found success in shorter stints.

The current roster has plenty of options. 

Logan Webb has the potential to be at the top of a rotation, but the Giants will limit his innings after a suspension wiped out much of his 2019. If Webb is in the opening day rotation, he could be set for shorter starts. 

In Andrew Suarez, Dereck Rodriguez and Conner Menez, the Giants have three young pitchers who have experience starting and relieving. Newcomer Trevor Oaks, a 26-year-old claimed off waivers, also has been a starter in the minors. 

The most interesting case might be right-hander Shaun Anderson, who a year ago at this time was the organization’s top pitching prospect.

As a rookie, Anderson had trouble getting deep into games. He eventually was moved to the bullpen, where he showed some flashes of being a potential closer. But the Giants aren’t committing just yet to putting Anderson in the late innings full time.

[RELATED: What new rule changes might mean for Giants roster]

“I met with him at the end of the season and he expressed his willingness to do either,” Zaidi said. “He’s obviously got experience doing both. Our plan is probably going to be to stretch him out early in spring training and then make an assessment on how the rotation is stacking up.”

That’s traditionally how teams handle all potential starters in spring training, and you can expect Anderson and others to train for lengthier outings. Ultimately, given the state of the franchise and the desire to experiment, they might be headed for new roles. 

A stat and an odd exchange show how rough Jeff Samardzija's start has been

A stat and an odd exchange show how rough Jeff Samardzija's start has been

There's a stunning stat from Jeff Samardzija's first three starts that shows how much he's struggling right now, but perhaps in this case all you need is an exchange from the Giants' loss Friday night. 

When Samardzija grazed Dodgers utility man Kiké Hernandez to load the bases in the fifth inning, Hernandez insisted over and over again to the home plate umpire that he had not been hit by the pitch. It was a strange sight, and the Giants even challenged the call -- with no luck -- to try to send Hernandez back to the box, but it seems that it's not a good sign that he wanted to be there in the first place. 

The Dodgers were remarkably comfortable against Samardzija, who is coming off a solid year but has had a nightmare start to 2020. In a 7-2 win over the Giants, they were quiet the first time through the order, then busted out for three homers the second time through. 

Samardzija walked off the mound in the fifth with the bases loaded. For the third time in three starts, he was charged with five earned runs. 

"I think he had a little bit of a lack of fastball command," manager Gabe Kapler said. "This is a very difficult lineup to get through even if you're locating your pitches."

The Dodgers proved that with the three homers, which brings us to the stunning stat. In three starts, totaling just 13 2/3 innings, Samardzija has allowed six homers but struck out just five batters. Right now, he doesn't have the stuff or command to put hitters away. 

"Too many times we're getting these 0-2, 1-2 counts and battling for too long," he said. "We need to make sure that when we're getting them in the hole, we're finishing them. You give these big league hitters too many opportunities, they're going to take advantage of it. We've got to get them up and set them down as fast as possible."

Samardzija actually looked marginally better in the first three innings, getting six pop-ups and shallow fly balls. But those turned to homers the second time through, dropping the Giants into too large a deficit. The loss was their fifth in six games and put them five games behind the Rockies and 4 1/2 behind the loaded Dodgers after a little over two weeks of action. 

It won't get any better without a sharp turn from the starting pitchers, and the Giants don't have an obvious solution right now if Samardzija keeps struggling. Drew Smyly will be reevaluated when the road trip ends next Wednesday. Swingman Tyler Anderson already is needed for Smyly's spot. 

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The Giants will hope the stuff improves and the command returns for Samardzija, at least enough to make hitters look less comfortable than Hernandez did. 

"He didn't think it hit him," Samardzija said. "I told him it must have hit his jersey or something. They're all gamers over there, they all want to play. I respect those guys a lot. He's just being honest. It's a good quality."

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 7-2 loss vs. Dodgers

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 7-2 loss vs. Dodgers


The Giants went to great lengths to keep Jeff Samardzija from pitching at Dodger Stadium in a season-opening series. On Friday it was more clear why they did it. 

Samardzija gave up six runs -- five of them earned -- and departed in a jam in the fifth. The Giants never caught up, losing 7-2 at Dodger Stadium, where they got a split just two weeks ago. 

The Giants have dropped four of five on this long road trip, and it doesn't get any easier. They'll face Clayton Kershaw on Saturday and Walker Buehler on Sunday. Here are three things to know from a forgettable Friday ... 

Slow Start for Shark 

Samardzija's stuff looked a *bit* better, and he got six pop-ups and shallow fly balls in the first three innings. But the second time through the order, the Dodgers hit three home runs. He didn't last much longer. 

Samardzija was pulled with the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth after grazing back-to-back Dodgers (Kiké Hernandez strangely argued that he was not hit). Sam Selman helped him out, but Samardzija was still charged with five earned for the third consecutive start. 

In three starts, the veteran right-hander has allowed 15 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings. He has struck out just five of the 65 batters he has faced. This is an issue the Giants are going to have to confront. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Another One 

The Giants tacked onto their error count early when Darin Ruf couldn't handle a single to left, allowing Cody Bellinger to cruise into second. Bellinger immediately scored on Justin Turner's single. It seems like every error comes around to cost the Giants, and that was their MLB-high 18th of the year. 

It didn't go down as an error, but Donovan Solano failed to get a double play when he threw a ball into the dirt instead of to first. 

The defense has been a problem just about every night. 

[RELATED: How Yaz has turned into Giants star year after close call]

Sam to the Rescue 

How about we end with a positive? 

Selman came on with the bases loaded and Max Muncy at the plate and allowed just one run to score, then went out and pitched another scoreless frame. That was good work -- he struck out three -- and allowed the Giants to avoid getting blown out in the sixth. 

In the old days, the joke would be Samardzija needs to buy Selman a steak. Who knows what that looks like in a season dominated by quarantining. Maybe he'll order the rookie some nice room service?