SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. He doesnt have a beard like BrianWilson or Sergio Romo. He doesnt even have Jeremy Affeldts soul patch.
He might be the most under-publicized member of the Giantsbullpen. But Santiago Casilla is having the most impressive spring of thebunch.
Casilla has a 0.96 ERA in 10 games. Opponents are hitting.156 against him. Hes averaging 0.56 baserunners per inning.
Just another instance of a pitcher coming in hot after anoffseason in winter ball, right?
No, no, Casilla said, shaking his head. I didnt playwinter ball. First time in seven years. Escogido, they wanted me. I say no.
Casilla admitted his elbow didnt feel so good at the end oflast season, when he threw 52.1 innings over 49 appearances (and posted a 1.74ERA). Casilla also notched six saves in six chances, not all of them in boringfashion, after Wilson went down with an elbow strain in mid-August.
It doesnt sound like an unbearable workload. But rememberthat Casilla missed 48 games almost 30 percent of last season on thedisabled list because of right elbow inflammation. He struggled with fastballvelocity last spring and gave up a run on opening day before the Giants put himon the shelf. When he came back, he was used a ton.
I threw too much, Casilla said. But I like pitching alot. I wanted to be ready for it.
The Giants need Casilla to be ready. At least in the earlygoing, they arent likely to push Wilson for those four-out saves or send himout to pitch on a third consecutive day. Wilson still hasnt appeared onconsecutive days this spring, as the coaches and training staff move forward atan ultra-deliberate pace.
Casilla and left-hander Jeremy Affeldt are expected to fillin on those nights when Wilson is held back.
Affeldt said Casilla is primed for a big year. Nobody thisspring has sent more bats to bat heaven.
You know why? Its because he throws his curveball behindin the count, Affeldt said. Thats what makes him filthy. And you cant siton it, either, because youve got to be ready for 96 (mph).
Stuff-wise, you arent going to name another right-handerwith better stuff than him.
Casilla bounced around the As system for several yearsbefore joining the Giants as a minor league free agent prior to the 2010season. That previous winter, he had learned a spike curve (also called aknuckle curve) in the Dominican. It made all the difference."
I said, I need a different pitch, my slider is so-so,'" Casilla said. "One pitcher, Rodriguez, said to hold it like a spike curve. It's like how Pedro Martinez holds his curveball. In the bullpen, I throw it. I go to the game, I strike out two and I say, OK, it's mine.'"
His bat-breaking tendencies led to a scary moment onTuesday. He threw a pitch that the Angels Jorge Cantu fouled off. Cantus batshattered so violently that the barrel shard sailed into the stands behind thethird base dugout. The game stopped for nearly 10 minutes as fans and medicstended to a woman hit by the debris. She was bleeding and taken to a hospitalbut was OK.
Oh my God, not good, Casilla said. Its hard becauseyou lose your emotions in the game when you see somebody hurt. I say thank Godshe is OK.
Casilla, 31, has another reason to be grateful. Hisyoungest brother, Jose, is doing well in his rehab from Tommy John surgery toreconstruct his elbow.
Jose Casilla, 21, had a 1.16 ERA in 467 games as thecloser at Low-A Augusta in 2010. He began at Single-A San Jose last seasonbefore having surgery in June. Hes playing catch again and is expected to beready to resume his career in a few months.
Hes great, the elder Casilla said. Hes very happy.