Mark Melancon

Bruce Bochy calls Mark Melancon 'invaluable,' weighing opportunities

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USATSI

Bruce Bochy calls Mark Melancon 'invaluable,' weighing opportunities

PITTSBURGH -- This trip is a homecoming for Mark Melancon, who was a three-time All-Star with the Pirates and had a strong half-season with the Nationals before signing with the Giants. 

For the first time in three years, perhaps Melancon can enjoy taking the mound here. He is healthy and throwing as well as he has since signing that deal, posting nine scoreless appearances to start the season. He has not returned as the closer, however. 

Melancon is fourth or fifth on the bullpen depth chart, and with right-handers Sam Dyson and Reyes Moronta ahead of him in the late innings most times, many of the veteran's early-season outings will be multiple innings. That's something Melancon had success with last season, and he has carried that over. 

"He's made himself even more versatile, which is invaluable for us," manager Bruce Bochy said Friday. 

That role could change, though. Bochy said he could see Melancon getting save opportunities this season. The Giants waited until Opening Day to name Will Smith their closer, in part because Bochy felt he had multiple good options. 

"It would be great if that were to work out because it could free up Will Smith, but there obviously was some concern about (Melancon's) health after what he went through last year," Bochy said. 

Melancon is healthy now, and giving him a few ninth-inning opportunities could allow Bochy to use Smith against a tough lefty in the eighth if he already has used Tony Watson. There's another factor here, too, one that club employees wouldn't ever want to mention out loud. 

[RELATED: Could Giants trade bullpen arm to Braves?]

Smith figures to be one of the better relievers available before the July 31 deadline and Watson and Dyson also could be attractive to other teams. Melancon's contract is harder to move and he has a year remaining. The Giants could look up after the deadline and determine that Melancon and Moronta are their two options. 

Could Giants trade bullpen arm to Braves after Arodys Vizcaino injury?

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AP

Could Giants trade bullpen arm to Braves after Arodys Vizcaino injury?

The Giants don't have a bonafide closer. They do, however, have several quasi-closers who have filled that role in the past, or possibly could do so in the future.

Will Smith, Mark Melancon, Sam Dyson, Tony Watson and Reyes Moronta have combined to post a 1.82 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 39 2/3 innings, giving San Francisco what ranks as one of the best bullpens in all of baseball. The Giants' relievers rank first overall in WAR (plus-1.6), according to FanGraphs.

With the emergence of Trevor Gott (plus-0.3) and Travis Bergen (plus-0.2), the Giants suddenly have an abundance of good-but-not-great options from both sides of the mound in the later innings.

The Atlanta Braves, however, suddenly have one fewer option, and it's a big loss. The team announced Wednesday that closer Arodys Vizcaino had season-ending shoulder surgery.

Of the Giants and Braves, one team seems significantly more likely to make a run at the postseason than the other, and it's not the one that has scored the third-fewest runs in all of baseball.

San Francisco could certainly use an influx of youth and talent into all levels of the organization. Although a potential trade for one of the Giants' aforementioned quasi-closers wouldn't net a ton in return, the Braves entered the season with the third-best farm system in the majors, according to MLB.com.

[RELATED: Why Giants envision 'great comeback' from injury for Bart]

The Giants' bullpen has surpassed expectations and been a pleasant surprise, and yet, San Francisco has been below .500 since Opening Day. They're not going to contend this season, and if they're going to a year or two from now, a call to the Braves is the kind the Giants should be making.

Giants takeaways: What we learned from .500 homestand at Oracle Park

Giants takeaways: What we learned from .500 homestand at Oracle Park

The Giants woke up Sunday looking for a sweep. By the end of the afternoon, they were just grateful that Evan Longoria poked a late single into left field. 

Avoiding a no-hitter isn't exactly the way you want to send yourself off on the road, but that was the reality of the final innings of a 10-game homestand.

With a 4-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies, the Giants finished an even 5-5. That's not quite what you want before a three-city trip, but a good series with the Rockies at least kept the team from heading to Washington D.C. already sort of buried. 

The Giants are four games out in the NL West, but just two behind the Dodgers, who had their own issues last week, and two and a half ahead of the reeling Rockies.

Before a long trip, here are five things we learned from that 5-5 stretch ...

The Bullpen Isn't Just Good, It's Deep

On Sunday, Derek Holland was followed by the last three guys in the 'pen, and they pushed the scoreless streak for Giants relievers to 20 innings. The group as a whole has a 1.77 ERA, and the three guys who won jobs in spring training are off to a hot start.

With a perfect frame Sunday, Travis Bergen has a 1.69 ERA and has allowed just two baserunners in seven appearances. The rookie left-hander will visit Toronto next week, giving the Blue Jays a look at a reliever they let get away in the Rule 5 Draft. 

Speaking of guys who got away, how did the Washington Nationals let Trevor Gott go for nothing but cash considerations? The 26-year-old sits 95-96 mph and has 11 strikeouts in 9 2/3 strong innings. Veteran Nick Vincent has always put up solid numbers, and he has a 2.61 ERA in seven appearances. 

A New Slugger

Kevin Pillar had a hit in eight of the 10 games on the homestand, although he strangely never had more than one hit in a game. Still, he's doing damage. Pillar already leads the Giants in RBI with 12 and he hit four homers last week. 

Pillar doesn't have a walk yet and doesn't hit for a high average, so the overall numbers may not be pretty at the end of the year. But this lineup desperately needed someone who could swing close games, and Pillar is going up there looking to drive in runs at every opportunity. He'll see his longtime teammates next week in Toronto. 

Posey's Progression

Buster Posey hit a couple balls on the screws early on the homestand and looked like he was breaking through. But the run he drove in Saturday remains his only RBI, and he'll take a .586 OPS into the second trip of the year. 

Posey still is not driving the ball and is lunging for more pitches than usual, striking out at nearly double his career rate. With a different roster, Bruce Bochy might be forced to start thinking about where to slot Posey in the lineup. But the rest of the core isn't really hitting, either, so the Giants will continue to wait and hope that Posey finds his form. 

The good news is that he has looked 100 percent healthy defensively. His throwing is as accurate as ever, and he hasn't had a passed ball or wild pitch yet. 

The Old Melancon?

It hasn't looked particularly dominant, but Mark Melancon has a 0.00 ERA through the middle of April, and that's a hell of an improvement from the previous two seasons. Melancon's line drive rate is down 13 percent and his groundball rate is up 12 percent, and that's a path to success when he can't quite pile up the strikeouts like he used to. 

A year after opponents hit .337 on Melancon's cutter, they're just 2-for-11 when putting the ball in play, and his velocity is up about .5 miles per hour. It's a very small sample, but these are positive signs. 

[RELATED: Giants' loss to Rockies another example of Sunday Scaries for offense]

More Pablo?

Pablo Sandoval has five hits as a pinch-hitter, four of which have been doubles, and there's no denying the spark he can bring to the team. Sandoval hasn't seen much time in the starting lineup with so many lefties lined up against the Giants, but that'll even out a bit now that the Giants are getting away from NL West play. It'll be interesting to see if he takes a few more starts from Longoria, who has struggled to get going. 

Or, with Gerardo Parra off to a slow start, will Brandon Belt get more time in left, allowing Sandoval to start at first? 

The Giants are averaging 2.76 runs per game. At some point, perhaps on this trip, they'll need to seriously start shaking things up.