Erik Kratz

Erik Kratz and the deep bullpen guide Giants to 18-inning marathon victory

Erik Kratz and the deep bullpen guide Giants to 18-inning marathon victory


SAN FRANCISCO -- Erik Kratz stood in the middle of the Giants clubhouse after one of the longest games in franchise history and smiled as he noted that he's actually been through this before. Of course he has. 

The 38-year-old has seen just about everything in this game, and he recalled all the details of that 18-inning game he caught with the Pirates in 2016. It was in July. Daniel Murphy ruined a shutout in the ninth. He hit a homer off Mark Melancon.

"Melancon shook off five pitches," Kratz said. 

Kratz remembered it all, and in that moment, it became clear how Kratz got through 18 innings behind the plate and still managed to focus and put a two-strike pitch in play in the bottom of the 18th to bring Brandon Belt home as the winning run.

The Giants beat the Rockies 3-2, and on a night when the lineup went 19 at-bats without a hit at one point and then went 16 more immediately after, Kratz guided the bullpen to a remarkable performance. Eight different relievers combined for 13 shutout innings, striking out 19 Rockies. 

Tony Watson was an early standout, getting himself out of a jam he created by getting Ian Desmond and Josh Fuentes out with the bases loaded in the eighth. Melancon struck out three and worked around four baserunners in two innings and he still has not allowed a run this season. 

Trevor Gott also went two innings, striking out three while pumping 95-96 mph fastballs. Do you think the Nationals want him back right now? Nick Vincent followed with three shutout innings, allowing just one hit. Rookie Travis Bergen got the win by striking out five in his two innings.

"A really gutty effort," manager Bruce Bochy said. "They had some chances and we got out of it. That's a great win, a great win. We used everybody. We stretched some guys out to where they hadn't really been, three innings. Melancon threw two innings. they pitched their hearts out."

Kratz, who caught 265 pitches, said watching it was "incredible." He was there every step of the way.

"I caught a second wind in the 17th inning," he cracked. 

In the bottom of the 18th, he got enough of a grounder to allow Belt to reach when the catcher pulled his foot. Kratz was running down the line and wondering how an infielder got to the ball, but Belt followed him and assured him he was safe. 

[RELATED: Watch Giants win 18-inning game]

That all allowed Bergen, the last man standing before the ball was handed to Sunday starter Derek Holland, to take a deep breath. He had not had an at-bat since 2012 when he was in high school, but at 12:50 a.m., there he stood, watching Kratz bat with the bases loaded and one out.

"I was scared to death, that's for sure," Bergen said. "I was trying to decide if I would swing at the first pitch or not. I went back and forth like 50 times in what felt like the three hours I was standing there."

Bruce Bochy's early Giants rest days lead to surprising lineup vs. Padres

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AP

Bruce Bochy's early Giants rest days lead to surprising lineup vs. Padres

SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants backup catcher Erik Kratz has plenty of experience as a Position Player Pitching, but Bruce Bochy said Friday that Pablo Sandoval is still his first choice for the role. 

So some things haven't changed. But the lineup certainly did Friday, and it came as a bit of a shock. Here's the group for the second game of the season:

Michael Reed RF (picked up a week ago)
Buster Posey 1B (not catching after just one day)
Yangervis Solarte 2B (no Panik after just one day)
Evan Longoria 3B (this is normal)
Brandon Crawford SS (ditto)
Connor Joe LF (picked up eight days ago)
Duggar CF (nothing strange here)
Kratz C (picked up last weekend)
Holland LHP (nothing strange, except some of the t-shirts)

Bochy said we'll probably see a bit more experimenting this year.

"You'll see us mix it up pretty good," he said. "We have some versatility with some guys."

The most jarring part of the lineup was not the newcomers, but the fact that Brandon Belt -- probably this team's best hitter -- sat on Night 2, and Joe Panik -- the hottest hitter all spring -- did as well. Bochy said the plan was to give all of his regulars a day off during this four-game series. The Giants have seven straight to start the year. 

[RELATED: Giants prospect Shaw gets surprise assignment in minors]

So, it should be more normal Saturday and Sunday, although Kratz will get another start. Posey will catch Saturday and then get a day off Sunday. That's the one area really worth watching, as the Giants are going to be pretty cautious with their catcher early on.

That will mean more starts at first, but it doesn't sound like Belt-to-left is likely in April. He didn't play out there in the spring. 

"Usually we check that box off," Bochy said. "We could do that this year and I would be okay with it. He'll tell you what a great athlete he is. I would have no problem putting him out there."

If the Giants get shut down again, perhaps that's one option they'll reevaluate. 

Bruce Bochy explains how Giants will utilize new catcher Erik Kratz

Bruce Bochy explains how Giants will utilize new catcher Erik Kratz

SAN FRANCISCO -- This is the second time Erik Kratz has been traded to a new organization in the week before the opener. He once got traded, got to the ballpark at six, and entered the game for a new team two hours later. 

So no, he is not sweating the fact that he has to learn a new pitching staff in time to potentially start a game for the Giants later this week. 

Kratz, acquired Sunday morning from the Brewers, will be the backup catcher, manager Bruce Bochy said. That means Kratz likely will start a game this weekend, as the Giants are hoping to ease Buster Posey into the regular season and they have four games in San Diego, followed by three in Los Angeles. 

"What are you going to do? It's part of the gig," Kratz said of the cram course. "It's not my first time."

The 38-year-old is happy for the opportunity regardless of the timing, because at the beginning of camp the Brewers told him he would not break with them. He spent six weeks auditioning for other teams, and he woke up Saturday thinking he was flying back home to Virginia to wait out the waiver process. Instead, he boarded a Sunday morning flight to the Bay Area, getting to the Coliseum in time to warm up two new teammates in the bullpen in the late innings. 

Kratz's arrival was not a surprise, really, given how many moves Farhan Zaidi has made this week. But it did certainly shake things up.

Bochy said the Giants are considering going with three catchers to start the year, allowing them to rest Posey more often and have Aramis Garcia's thump on the bench. 

"It's a pretty big bat," Bochy said of Garcia, "And he does a nice job wherever we put him (catcher or first base)."

That might be a luxury the Giants can't afford, though. They are leaning towards keeping 13 pitchers, which would mean just four bench spots. Kratz has one and Yangervis Solarte has one. Keeping Garcia would leave just one spot for Alen Hanson, Pablo Sandoval and the candidates vying for the fourth outfield job. 

[RELATED: Erik Kratz leaves his mark everywhere he goes]

"There are a lot of variables involved with this decision," Bochy said. 

More will be known Monday, when Bochy expects to announce his rotation (even though it seems set already). Perhaps the Giants will make yet another move, but for now, this much is certain: The Giants have their backup catcher, and a few days to figure out the rest.