Mark Melancon

Melancon's role upon return from DL should be similar to end of last season

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AP

Melancon's role upon return from DL should be similar to end of last season

HOUSTON — For a player who was such a high-profile addition two years ago, Mark Melancon has slipped under the radar over the past two months. His arm discomfort was quickly overshadowed by Madison Bumgarner’s pinky fracture, and while Melancon made progress, Johnny Cueto made a trip to Dr. James Andrews. 

But Melancon should be the first of the injured pitchers to return. He will start a rehab assignment tonight with the Sacramento River Cats, and if all goes well, Melancon should be back on the big league roster in two weeks. But, what will the role be for a player who was not long ago given $62 million to close games?

“It will probably be like last year (when he returned from injury), earlier innings and we’ll see where he’s at and how he’s feeling and how he’s throwing,” manager Bruce Bochy said over the weekend. “We’ll let him get settled in and go that way. I don’t want to put added pressure on him as soon as he gets back.”

When Melancon returned from a six-week DL stint last year, he never pitched the ninth. He saw time in the seventh and then the eighth before shutting it down for surgery that didn’t solve his pronator issues. The Giants went into the spring with Melancon set for the closer role, but he was shut down over the final week and Hunter Strickland took over. He has a 2.18 ERA and nine saves in 11 opportunities. Tony Watson, who has closed in the past, has a 2.14 ERA, and Sam Dyson (last year’s fill-in) has also pitched well.

It’s a good problem to have. If the Giants can get anything from Melancon, they’ll be adding another quality arm to a bullpen that has been strong at the back end. If Melancon throws so well that he’s an option to close once again, Bochy will deal with it. For now, the hurdle is not performance. It’s durability. 

One of Strickland’s strengths is his ability to take the ball multiple days in a row, and twice already this season he has pitched three consecutive games. Bochy needs a closer who is available just about every day, and Melancon had to be shut down in the spring after going back-to-back for the first time. The plan is for him to pitch in back-to-back games at least once during the rehab assignment. 

“It’s going to take some time to get there,” Bochy said. “With our bullpen situation, the back end has been doing a really nice job. We’ll mix him in there and he’ll be a big part of it, too. It allows you to rest guys and keep them fresh and he’ll be a big part of it.”

First rehab outings for Bumgarner, Melancon appear to be set; Pence tweaking swing

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USATSI

First rehab outings for Bumgarner, Melancon appear to be set; Pence tweaking swing

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants will face a couple of aces next week in Houston when Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole take the mound for the Astros. By the end of the week, their own ace should take a big step.

Madison Bumgarner will throw to Giants hitters on Tuesday and is likely to make his first rehab start the following Saturday, May 26, for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. That should get Bumgarner back in the big league rotation sometime around the second week of June, and he won't be alone in rehabbing with the River Cats. 

Mark Melancon faced hitters Thursday afternoon and it went so well that he's likely to make his first rehab appearance on Sunday or Monday. Melancon will spend about two weeks in Triple-A, with the goal of making five appearances. Manager Bruce Bochy said they would like Melancon to pitch on back-to-back days at some point down there. He did that just once this spring, and the next day was shut down. 

Elsewhere in the infirmary, Mac Williamson (concussion) is doing well and is close to a rehab assignment. Joe Panik (thumb) has started to take soft-toss swings in the cage. Bumgarner, by the way, has been swinging in the cage for a while. He'll be ready to hit when he returns. 

--- Hunter Pence is currently on a rehab appearance, but this is about more than just getting healthy. Pence went down to Los Angeles to see Doug Latta, the specialist who overhauled Williamson's swing, and he has taken a similar approach. He is hoping the swing, made popular by Justin Turner, will help him find results when he returns. 

"There are times in your career when it's important that you make some tweaks and change," Bochy said. "Hunter felt that, and I agree. The fact that this is something that he really wanted is going to make it easier to work out for him."

There's no understating how difficult this is. Pence, 35, has had the same unique swing his whole career, and he's trying to change on the fly. The Giants like the early results, but who knows what will happen once he faces a big league breaking ball. Pence tried to make a swing change during spring training and quickly went back to his roots. 

If the results are encouraging, it's possible that the Giants and Pence could choose to option him to Triple-A so he can continue to work on the changes once his rehab time is over. But Bochy said that hasn't been brought up yet. Pence would have to agree to any such move.

Mark Melancon gets stem cell injection, but next step is up in the air

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AP

Mark Melancon gets stem cell injection, but next step is up in the air

SAN DIEGO — The Giants finally gave a Mark Melancon update on Thursday, but it was hard to tell whether the news was good or bad. 

Melancon had a stem cell injection in his injured right pronator, which did not respond as hoped to September surgery, and the Giants are hopeful he can begin a throwing program in two weeks. At the same time, there’s no guarantee of that, and there was an acknowledgement that this continued pronator tightness is something that there’s not really a precedent for among pitchers. 

For now, at least, the Giants are glad the procedure was not another surgical one. 

“I think it’s good news that we don’t have to do more than that,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I can’t tell you how long before he’s on the mound pitching for us, but at least we have a better idea now than we did yesterday.”

Melancon sought another opinion from Dr. James Andrews, a noted orthopedist, and the determination was that his ligament is fine. Tightness in and around the pronator and the adjacent nerves caused Melancon to be shut down a few days before the start of the season. He is in year two of a four-year deal that was briefly the richest ever signed by a reliever. 

Without Melancon, the Giants will continue to lean on Hunter Strickland. He has just one wobble this season — a homer allowed to Paul Goldschmidt — but otherwise has been dominant.