Bochy's bullpen acumen will be tested down stretch

August 19, 2012, 5:10 am
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BOX SCORESAN DIEGO When the Giants hired Bruce Bochy almost sixyears ago, club officials lauded his ability to move chess pieces in hisbullpen.

Bochys skills have never been tested the way theyll beover these next six weeks.

The Giants are trying to hang onto first place with thedreaded closer-by-committee approach, and it ended with jitters followed by handshakesin an 8-7 victory over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park Saturday night.

Jeremy Affeldt wasnt hit hard in the ninth inning, when hefollowed two quick outs with a walk and a pair of singles. One hit came on abroken bat. The other was an end-of-the-bat flare. Even the walk came after a borderline,two-strike pitch.

In other words, Affeldt wasnt hit hard as the Padres scoreda pair of runs against him. But Bochy shook the Yahtzee cup anyway. He went toClay Hensley, knowing the Padres would counter with left-handed pinch hitterMark Kotsay.

The matchup worked. Hensley got ahead with sinkers whiletrying for a ground ball, then fluttered a change-up through Kotsays swing tostrand the tying run at first base and keep the Giants in first place foranother day, a half-game ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
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Can they stay there without an oversized presence in theninth inning? Can they stay there if whenever the bullpen phone rings, seven differentguys reflexively jump up? Can this bullpen finish out tight games without anestablished closer?

I dont think its been too different, Hensley said. Everybodyjust has the mindset to throw up a zero whenever you pitch. I think the rolesare all out the window, so everybody from the fourth inning on is pretty muchgetting ready to pitch.

Lets not forget Bochys other big decision on the pitchingside Saturday night: He pulled Barry Zito after just four innings, sending uppinch hitter Ryan Theriot to start the fifth. Theriot singled to start afour-run rally that gave the Giants a 5-4 lead.

Bochy agreed that its deep enough in this pennant race tostart making snappier decisions. But he also credited Matt Cains eight-inningeffort Friday night with allowing him to turn to his bullpen in the fifthinning.

At that point, were down three, and you hate to take yourstarter out, but weve got 13 pitchers, Bochy said. Thats what they allowyou to do. And we have the luxury of plenty of guys who are accustomed topitching out of the bullpen.

Somewhere among those eight guys, Bochy will have to pick a closer on a given night. The Giants already have four relievers with at least three saves, after Hensley recorded his third. And whether you play chess or Yahtzee, you always want to have an endgame strategy.