Travis Bergen

Giants Rule 5 pick Travis Bergen finally gets to pitch in Toronto

bergenusa.jpg
USATSI

Giants Rule 5 pick Travis Bergen finally gets to pitch in Toronto

SAN FRANCISCO -- Kevin Pillar was emotional on his way out of Toronto earlier this month, and most of the attention will be on the center fielder as the Giants play two with the young Blue Jays. But the trip to the Rogers Centre will be just as meaningful for another Giant, albeit in a much different way.

From the moment the Blue Jays took him in the seventh round in 2015, lefty Travis Bergen dreamed of playing in Toronto. He never even visited the city while with the organization, always stuck rehabbing or working his way through the low minors. But he'll be in the bullpen tonight, having won a job this spring and shown enough promise through his first month that the Giants have kept the Rule 5 pick around. 

"It's going to be pretty cool," Bergen said. "I guess I envisioned myself playing in the big leagues with them when I was drafted, and the opportunity that I got here (with the Giants) has been something that I never would have dreamed of."

That opportunity never came in Toronto because of injuries. Bergen pitched just 59 times in the minors before the Giants scooped him up in the December Rule 5 Draft, impressed by his eye-popping numbers and a fastball that's deceptive despite sitting around 90 mph. 

So far it looks like a solid evaluation. Bergen made the club with a big spring, and although he returns to Toronto with a 7.11 ERA, he mostly has pitched well. Bergen allowed two homers and four runs in one outing against the Nationals but otherwise has allowed just one run since making the leap from Double-A. 

Pitching coach Curt Young said Bergen is working on a changeup in bullpen sessions, but so far he has been a two-pitch guy. He throws a good curveball 30 percent of the time and his fastball 70 percent. It's not overpowering by any means, but hitters have always had a hard time squaring it up.

"He has good arm speed and sells it well, and he gets good spin on the baseball," Young said of the fastball. "It's the true perfect elevation of a fastball. He throws it up in the zone really well."

Bergen said he hasn't gotten too deep into the analytics of why his two pitches work, preferring to focus on how to prepare as a big leaguer. He spends plenty of time learning from the veterans in the bullpen, and he singled out Mark Melancon as one player who has helped him learn how to set up hitters. 

This Giants bullpen, with veteran lefties like Will Smith and Tony Watson alongside Melancon, Sam Dyson and others, is a hell of a place for a young pitcher to learn. But that could change this summer. Smith and Watson will be trade chips, and Bergen could soon find himself in high-pressure spots with a lefty at the plate. 

[RELATED: Former Giant Pence finding success in Texas with new swing]

For now, manager Bruce Bochy is easing him in, but he said he doesn't see Bergen as a specialist. He has the equipment to get lefties and righties out, and the Giants are more than pleased with their pick. 

"You look at what he had to go through this spring, the pressure on these guys as a Rule 5 pick," Bochy said. "You have to make the club or go back, and he performed really well. I think it says a lot about the kid and his makeup."

Giants pitchers dig too deep a hole for hitters in loss to Nationals

Giants pitchers dig too deep a hole for hitters in loss to Nationals

WASHINGTON D.C. -- The Giants trailed by seven runs at the beginning of the ninth inning Wednesday night. About 15 minutes later, Sean Doolittle was on the mound and Reyes Moronta was hurrying to get hot in the visiting bullpen.

A spirited comeback fell short when Evan Longoria popped up with two on, capping a 9-6 loss. Those kinds of rallies leave you feeling better about your night. They also leave you with plenty of regrets. The main ones on Wednesday: Jeff Samardzija gave up two homers in the first and Travis Bergen allowed two more in the seventh.

"We just dug ourselves too big a hole," manager Bruce Bochy said. 

Samardzija had not allowed a homer in his six previous starts, including three strong ones to start this season. That was a big deal for a pitcher who once led the league in homers allowed and gave up 30 bombs in another season. But on this night, the Nationals jumped on two bad two-seamers in the first. 

Juan Soto got one that leaked up and in and crushed a no-doubter to right, giving the Nationals an early 2-0 lead. Two batters later, Howie Kendrick did similar damage to a two-seamer that again was in the happy zone. Samardzija said he'll go back to the drawing board, noting he felt too quick with his delivery. 

"It was a battle out there," he said. "Especially early."

The Giants lost for the 11th time in their first 19 games, and while this one was unfamiliar in terms of power on both sides -- they hit two homers in the ninth -- the comeback was something they've become used to. The lineup makes a habit of coming through late, and on most nights the regret is that there wasn't enough production early. This time the hole was too deep because of the pitching, but Samardzija hoped that ninth inning would help out in the series finale. The Nationals ended up using three relievers in the inning, including their closer. 

[RELATED: Braves lose their closer; Could Giants be trade partner?]

"It's not surprising," Samardzija said. "It was great to see. You get into the bullpen and even in a loss you make them get a few guys up, a few more than they wanted to. Those things carry over."

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.