Andrew Suarez

Giants' Andrew Suarez open to being starter or reliever this season

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USATSI

Giants' Andrew Suarez open to being starter or reliever this season

Andrew Suarez quietly has put together an impressive spring training for the Giants in Scottsdale. And the left-hander is willing to play any role manager Gabe Kapler might ask of him. 

"It doesn't matter," Suarez said Sunday to KNBR's Marty Lurie when asked if he prefers to start or be a reliever. "Whatever I can do to help the team out, that's all I'm gonna worry about. For now, I'm just trying to stay healthy and continue a strong spring." 

Suarez, 27, has allowed only two earned runs (a two-run homer) over 6 2/3 innings this spring. He also has recorded nine strikeouts and only one walk while appearing in three games, with one as a starter and two as a reliever. 

The former Giants second-round draft pick made 29 starts as a rookie in 2018 when he had a 4.49 ERA over 160 1/3 innings. Last season, however, he took a step back with a 5.79 ERA and only started two games. 

While the Giants have been preaching defensive versatility this spring, Kapler likes that he can use Suarez in multiple ways as well

"He gives us confidence that he can do both (roles)," Kapler said to reporters on Thursday. "In a perfect world we could use him in short bursts and kind of use him in pockets of a lineup where there are several lefties, but I don't think we have to. It's nice to have a guy who can bounce back and forth potentially between the rotation and the bullpen.

"He's demonstrating that he can get right-handed hitters now, and if he does that successfully over a long period of time you could see him being valuable in both roles."

As Suarez looks for a bounce-back season, the Giants are asking him to throw more four-seam fastballs and use his changeup against right-handed hitters. He has focused heavily on his command, too, something he struggled with a bit last season. 

[RELATED: Kapler explains why Giants cut Shaw, Gustave from camp]

"This year, I've just been working on my command for my slider and changeup, keep it more consistent," Suarez said to Lurie. "And my fastball as well. Every year you gotta keep working and that's what I've been doing. Like you said too, keeping hitters off-balance. I've just been mixing my pitches more often ... yeah, I think mixing it up a bit more has been helping." 

If Suarez can continue to get right-handed hitters out more often, he can be an intriguing option for Kapler either as a starter or reliever. Entering his third season in the bigs, the lefty just wants to be trusted with the ball in his hands.

How Drew Smyly, Giants lefties fared against Indians' righty lineup

How Drew Smyly, Giants lefties fared against Indians' righty lineup

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- You don't go for the platoon advantage in spring training, but the lineup the Indians brought across the valley on Thursday certainly looked straight out of a regular season game. There were four switch-hitters at the top against lefty Drew Smyly, followed by three right-handed hitters. Eight of the nine starters for the Indians batted from the right side. 

It was a good test, then, for a Giants staff that came into camp with serious questions about left-handed pitching depth even before it was discovered that Tony Watson had a sore shoulder (he threw a bullpen session Thursday but has yet to appear in a game). 

There were three left-handed pitchers who stood out Thursday for different reasons. Here's a rundown:

--- Smyly recorded just one out before he was pulled four batters into the game. He needed 32 pitches to load the bases and strike out Carlos Santana, and the Giants are limiting starters to about 30 pitches an inning right now to be careful. So out came Gabe Kapler with the hook, and Smyly watched as Brandon Lawson entered and got an inning-ending double play on his first pitch.

"It's a crazy game," Smyly said, laughing. 

The offseason addition went out to the bullpen for 17 more pitches, getting his count up where the Giants need it right now. There was very little concern about his inability to put hitters away Thursday.

"I pretty much wipe the slate clean," Kapler said. 

The good news was that Smyly was 94-95 mph with his fastball at times, which will be a nice counter to his go-to curve. 

"My stuff seems really sharp," Smyly said. "It's frustrating because it was just one of those days I couldn't put them away ... My body feels great and I feel really strong. I feel like it's coming out (of my hand) really well."

Smyly is a lock to be in the rotation that first week. The Giants are going to give him and Kevin Gausman every chance to stick. 

--- Andrew Suarez was a big part of the mix two years ago but made just two starts last year. He was pretty solid out of the bullpen, though, and he allowed just two runs in 10 relief appearances in September. The Giants believe there's something there, and they've asked him to throw more four-seamers overall and use his changeup more against right-handed hitters. 

"He gives us confidence that he can do both (roles). In a perfect world we could use him in short bursts and kind of use him in pockets of a lineup where there are several lefties, but I don't think we have to," Kapler said. "It's nice to have a guy who can bounce back and forth potentially between the rotation and the bullpen. He's demonstrating that he can get right-handed hitters now, and if he does that successfully over a long period of time you could see him being valuable in both roles."

Suarez had four relief appearances last year that lasted two innings and he went 2 2/3 Thursday. That could be a nice role for him in a three-batter-minimum world. 

--- Strikeout rate is more important for relievers than it used to be, which is perhaps why Jarlin Garcia was available as a waiver claim despite posting a 3.02 ERA for the Marlins last season. The 27-year-old struck out 6.9 batters per nine last year and is at just 6.4 for his career. 

But the Giants were still excited to add him to the mix, and that includes Kapler, who saw his Phillies score five runs off Garcia in nine meetings last year. 

"Historically and against us with the Phillies, he wasn't a guy who made you feel he was going to strike a bunch of hitters out, and even when he had left-handed batters at the plate it wasn't really a strikeout package," Kapler said. "It was more of a soft contact package. Jarlin has done a really good job with staying off barrels of both left-handers and right-handers."

[RELATED: Giants' rotation options with Beede hurt]

So what makes Garcia so appealing? He's a strike-thrower, and he pounded the zone Thursday with a 93 mph fastball and good slider. He has allowed just two singles in four innings this spring. 

"Strike-throwers are really important in young bullpens and on teams that don't have a lot of superstar firepower," Kapler said. "Strike-throwers keep you in games. They're going to get hit around once in a while but they're not going to walk the bases loaded and put your bullpen at risk."

The Giants will have a young bullpen, and Garcia is out of options. He seems to be in a very good spot right now. 

Assessing Giants' rotation options after Tyler Beede's elbow injury

Assessing Giants' rotation options after Tyler Beede's elbow injury

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants kept adding and adding, long after it seemed they had coverage in their rotation. Farhan Zaidi goes into every season knowing you'll likely need at least twice the five starters you begin the year with, and he kept adding depth to a group that should look quite different come August 1.

The Giants could trade Jeff Samardzija or Johnny Cueto to contenders looking for veteran rotation help. They could deal Kevin Gausman or Drew Smyly if either turns into Drew Pomeranz 2.0. They have been planning for such moves, and so it made sense to add so many potential starters. 

But they also knew that every pitcher is one offering away from the nightmare scenario, and Tyler Beede is dealing with it now. Beede has a flexor strain and elbow sprain in his pitching elbow, and even if a second opinion matches the first one that surgery is not immediately needed, he will miss significant time. When he started researching similar cases on Tuesday night, Beede was drawn to Tampa Bay right-hander Tyler Glasnow, who was sidelined last summer with flexor inflammation. 

Glasnow missed four months and then returned to make shortened starts for a team in the playoff race. Beede is in a slightly different situation even outside of the fact that the injuries are different. He is not yet fully built up, and a layoff would then likely be followed by a few extra weeks of rehab starts to simulate the spring he's now missing. 

The Giants did not want to talk timetables on Wednesday. They know a second opinion might bring worse news, and for now, all they'll say is that Beede will start the season on the Injured List and miss significant time. They'll be without one of their most exciting young players, but also the pitcher who very likely would have opened as the fifth starter. 

A day after Beede went down, manager Gabe Kapler acknowledged what a blow this is for the organization and Beede, but added, "I think it introduces some new exciting competition and I think some guys will embrace it as such."

"I think it reinforces that we're fairly deep," Kapler said of the altered rotation race. "It's not deep with established, veteran players with a lot of success, but deep with starting pitching possibilities. I think we can stay excited about that, that there are guys like Anderson and Suarez and Oaks and Cahill and Ross and Webb, to just name a few. That's not the end of it, but that's some that can be thinking about possibly starting at some point."

The last player mentioned there, Logan Webb, is the obvious answer. Webb and Beede are similar in that they showed flashes of what they're capable of last year but certainly have work to do. The only thing keeping Webb from being a sure thing for the Opening Day lineup is an innings limit after Webb missed much of last season with a suspension, but the Giants could opt to have Webb start the season in the big leagues and then limit his workload in the second half. On talent, he is their best option, and Webb has pitched on a normal schedule this spring and should be ready if he's the choice.

After that, there are two different buckets of players. Shaun Anderson, Andrew Suarez and Dereck Rodriguez would lead the pack of younger pitchers who have been in the rotation over the past two years and could slide in again. Then there's the group of veterans with big league experience, which includes Tyson Ross, Trevor Cahill, Trevor Oaks and eventually Tyler Anderson, who is rehabbing from knee surgery but is well ahead of schedule. 

[RELATED: Cueto impressing new manager with attention to detail]

If the Giants don't find stability there, they could borrow an idea from the team Glasnow plays for. This is a coaching staff that likes openers and will deploy them, and the Giants could do that with their fifth slot. 

There are options, as Kapler said. But there's no denying this was a big blow for a team that hoped Beede could start to establish himself as one of the rotation's building blocks.