Giants

Giants spring preview: Bullpen order should be set early

Giants spring preview: Bullpen order should be set early

SAN FRANCISCO — Finding a new closer was the main focus of the offseason after an NLDS meltdown back in early October. As it turned out, finding a new closer was just about the entire focus of the offseason.

Mark Melancon was the only significant winter addition for the Giants, signing a four-year, $62 million deal. Melancon should settle things down in the ninth and make life significantly easier for manager Bruce Bochy, but the addition doesn’t mean the bullpen is quite set.

Santiago Casilla, the closer who made Melancon so necessary, signed with the A’s in January. When he passes his physical, Sergio Romo will be a Dodger. Javier Lopez has been out of the headlines all offseason and is expected to retire. Combined, that’s 23 seasons of Giants experience that has walked out the door. 

“That's something you do miss,” Bochy said at the Winter Meetings. “I think we missed (Jeremy) Affeldt last year, a little bit, his experience. He was part of the glue to the bullpen. So I thought we missed him at times, not just what he did on the mound but the leadership that he provided for that bullpen. But we feel like we have some really good arms that can fill those holes.”

Melancon won’t just be counted on in the ninth. He’ll need to fill some of the leadership gap, and the early indications are positive. Giants employees who spoke to Melancon after his signing came away gushing about how he wants to have the same kind of impact on the organization’s young pitchers that Hunter Pence has had on position players. His offseason work with top prospect Tyler Beede shows it wasn't just talk. Veterans like George Kontos and Will Smith are expected to lead the way as well. 

Those three are locks for the opening day bullpen, as are several others. It shouldn't be long before all the pieces are in place. After Melancon signed, Bochy said he wants to have the other late-inning roles settled relatively early in camp. Pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale Stadium on Monday. 

“I do want to get more conventional,” Bochy said. “I know pitchers like to know when they're coming in, and I think they're a little more comfortable or even confident knowing what role they have. This mix and match can be tough on those guys."

Bochy has had a long winter to think about the setup of his bullpen. He said he’ll sit down with pitching coach Dave Righetti and the relievers early in camp to set some defined roles. That should go over well with a group that didn’t always appreciate last season’s ambiguity. 

“I would like to stay away from, ‘All right, we're competing for this (inning),’” Bochy said. “Because I want these guys getting ready in the spring and I want them using all their pitches and getting ready.”

Here’s a look at the relief candidates who will be in camp when pitchers and catchers report Monday … 

THE MAIN PIECES: 

Mark Melancon, Cory Gearrin, George Kontos, Derek Law, Will Smith, Hunter Strickland: It’s hard to picture an opening day bullpen without any of these guys. Gearrin didn’t play a prominent role after getting hurt last season, but he was Bochy’s eighth-inning guy at one point in the first half and he’s out of options. Bochy likes Kontos in the sixth inning. Smith will be the late lefty. Expect either Law or Strickland to settle into that eighth inning. 

Steven Okert, Josh Osich: They’re right next to each other on the roster, and probably competing for just one job. Okert impressed in a September cameo. Osich is as dominant as any Giant when he’s on his game, but he’s coming off a down year and minor surgery. 

ON THE 40-MAN ROSTER: 

Chris Stratton, Albert Suarez: They’re in a pretty similar position. Both spent time in the big leagues last season, with Suarez putting forth a run as a pretty reliable spot starter. They would need injuries to open up a fifth starter/long reliever gig, but there’s also another way they could come into play. Bochy will certainly take advantage of the new 10-day disabled list to rest some of his big league relievers, so the versatile pitchers in Sacramento (both of these guys can start or relieve) should see extra time. 

Chase Johnson, Reyes Moronta and Dan Slania: These three right-handers were added to the roster in November. Johnson transitioned to relief last season while Slania went the other direction and found a ton of success. Moronta piles up strikeouts with a fastball that has hit triple digits, but he hasn’t pitched above High-A yet. 

Ray Black: The man who has hit 104 mph is back in camp. The strikeout numbers are still ridiculous, but he walked a batter per inning last season in Double-A. 

Ian Gardeck: Another 100-mph arm, he looked to be on the fast track before Tommy John hit. He’s nearly a year out from the elbow procedure, but most of this season will likely be dedicated to rehab work. 

NON-ROSTER INVITEES: 

Carlos Alvarado, Jose Dominguez, Roberto Gomez, Bryan Morris, Neil Ramirez, Matt Reynolds, Kraig Sitton: Most of these guys are coming off seasons in the minors. You might remember Dominguez, who has a big-time fastball, from his Dodgers days. He’s also pitched for the Rays and Padres. Morris had a 3.06 ERA for the Marlins last season before surgery to repair a herniated disk. Ramirez is coming off a rough year, but he’s not all that far removed from posting a 1.44 ERA for the Cubs in 2014. Reynolds made eight appearances for the Giants last season. Bochy and Righetti's history says they'll find at least one 2017 contributor from this group. 

WILD CARD:

Matt Cain or Ty Blach: These two will compete for the fifth rotation spot, with Cain going into camp as the frontrunner. If Blach can't win the spot, he'll likely have to wait it out in Triple-A, but he did show in the postseason that he would be comfortable coming out of the bullpen. A spot as a long reliever, or even middle-innings lefty, can't be ruled out. Fitting Cain into the bullpen would be a bit more difficult, but the Giants aren't going to just cut bait with their longest-tenured player, so there's a chance he ends up in the 'pen at some point if he can't stick in the rotation. 

Giants lineup: Posey returns for series opener vs Phillies

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USATSI

Giants lineup: Posey returns for series opener vs Phillies

As the Giants head back home to take on the Phillies, Buster Posey will be in the squat to catch Jeff Samardzija Thursday night.

Philadelphia Phillies (43-75)

Lineup still to come

San Francisco Giants (48-74)

1. Denard Span (L) CF
2. Hunter Pence (R) RF
3. Jarrett Parker (L) LF
4. Buster Posey (R) C
5. Pablo Sandoval (S) 3B
6. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
7. Ryder Jones (L) 1B
8. Kelby Tomlinson (R) 2B
9. Jeff Samardzija (R) P

Manfred on pace issues: ‘Confident that we will have changes for next year’

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AP

Manfred on pace issues: ‘Confident that we will have changes for next year’

CHICAGO -- Major League Baseball is having conversations with the players' association over possible rule changes designed to speed the pace of play, and Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday he hopes to reach an agreement instead of implementing any measures unilaterally.

Manfred also said the Bruce Sherman-led ownership group trying to purchase the Miami Marlins has presented the league with a financial structure that would work for finalizing the deal, and he expressed confidence that a major league franchise can be successful in the market. Speaking at the conclusion of the owners meetings, he also expressed surprise with veteran umpire Joe West's reaction to his suspension for his comments about Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre.

The average time of a nine-inning game is a record 3 hours, 5 minutes this season, up from 3 hours last year and 2:56 in 2015, Manfred's first season as commissioner. Management proposed making changes for this year, such as installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound by catchers, but players' association head Tony Clark said his side would not agree. The league can implement changes by itself with one-year advance notice.

"We met with Tony Clark and a group of players last week," Manfred said. "The tone of those conversations have been very positive. Hats off to Tony and the players on that, and I remain confident that we will have changes for next year on the issue of pace of game that will be significant."

Manfred declined to get into any specifics about possible changes or what the league might do if it is unable to reach a deal with the union.

"I think the best course for baseball - and by that I mean the clubs and the players - is for us to get an agreement," he said.

A message was left Thursday seeking comment from the players' association.

The owners had a light agenda for their quarterly meeting at a hotel in downtown Chicago, and one of the major topics was Sherman's signed $1.2 billion agreement to purchase the Marlins from Jeffrey Loria. Former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is a limited partner in the group and will take over Miami's business and baseball operations if the transaction is approved.

Sherman met with the MLB ownership committee on Wednesday, and the deal could be completed by the end of the season. Manfred brushed aside any concern over reports that the group is seeking more financing.

"The group led by Mr. Sherman has presented us with a financial structure that would allow them to close the transaction consistent with baseball's rules," he said. "That doesn't mean that they might prefer to have additional equity in the deal and might be out there looking for it. But they have a financial structure that would allow them to close the deal consistent with our rules."

West, 64, was disciplined this month after he told USA Today that Beltre was the biggest complainer in the major leagues. West, the majors' senior umpire, also said he told Beltre during a recent game that he may be a great ballplayer but that he was the worst umpire in the league.

Manfred said he met with West after his comments became public and they agreed a three-day suspension was appropriate.

"Unfortunately Mr. West decided he didn't want to live up to that agreement," Manfred said. "I assume in consultation with the (World Umpires Association), given the statements that they've made, and we had to proceed in a different way.

"But I did have a very specific understanding with Mr. West as to what was going to happen here and that he was in agreement with what was going to happen here."

The umpires' union announced West's suspension and said it strongly disagreed with the decision. It is seeking the restoration of West's lost salary.

A message was left Thursday seeking comment from the WUA.

While West's suspension and Detroit infielder Ian Kinsler's harsh criticism of umpire Angel Hernandez on Tuesday has put a spotlight on the relationship between players and umps, don't look for an electronic strike zone anytime soon.

Manfred said the technology isn't quite there just yet, and he sounded reluctant to make the move when it arrives.

"It would be a pretty fundamental change in the game to take away a function that has been performed by our umpiring staff really with phenomenal accuracy," Manfred said. "I know it's easy to say he missed that one, he missed the other one. The fact of the matter is they get them right well over 90 percent of the time. And there is a human aspect to that, a work aspect to it that's always been an important part of our game."