Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On one of the many nights last season when his bullpen imploded, Bruce Bochy nearly put a catcher on the mound. Trevor Brown ended up playing an inning of third base on June 28 as the Giants gave up eight runs over the final two innings in a brutal loss to the A’s, and he said this week that he was told he was the next man up on the mound. 

That night was an odd one, as a tired bullpen was waiting for Sergio Romo to get activated off a rehab assignment and trying to get by without long reliever Chris Stratton, who had thrown 57 pitches out of the ‘pen the night before. The bench was also short because Joe Panik was about to be put on the concussion DL.

Bochy hopes he doesn’t have to deal with such a situation this season, and not just because the bullpen should be much improved. The disabled list lasts 10 days now, not 15, and Bochy is thrilled with the new rule.

“The DL thing, I really like it,” he said. “You get caught in that gray area so often.” 

Bochy met with league officials on Saturday to go over some of the rule changes. DL stints can now be made retroactive just three days, but it’s still a vast improvement overall. 

“With (position) players and pitchers it’s going to make it easier to DL guys,” Bochy said. “If you’re looking at (starting) pitchers, they could miss just one start.”

The Giants have often played a man or more short, trying to get by day-by-day to give a position player or starter time to heal. Around camp, this could be called the Angel Pagan Rule, as the former Giants outfielder often missed a week or so before officially going on the DL. At times, Bochy has been patient with players like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, knowing that even if they missed a week, keeping them off the DL could still earn the Giants seven or eight games with a big bat back in the lineup. If a future diagnosis is that a player will miss a week, it’ll be much easier to swallow putting him on the 10-day DL than it was for the 15-day. Likewise, the Giants will take advantage of the change if a pitcher will have to miss a start. 

Bochy has said often that he would like every reliever to go on the DL during the season to freshen up. That’ll make more sense now, and it should keep the Giants from having to play as many games where the bullpen is gassed and a backup catcher is preparing to pitch. For guys like Stratton — a versatile pitcher on the 40-man roster — it should also lead to increased trips up to the big leagues to fill gaps. 

INJURY UPDATE: Pence (side muscle) took 25 swings during a live BP session in the cage and Bochy said he’s doing much better. That was about the only significant activity Sunday. Once again, the workout was rained out. Bochy said the Giants have enough time to get guys ready for the Cactus League opener on Feb. 24, but they’ll likely hold some big-name pitchers out of the early games. Brandon Crawford and Posey will get plenty of early starts to prepare for the WBC. 

PROSPECT WATCH: If the early games are turned over to prospects, Dan Slania will be an interesting guy to watch. Slania is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, so he always had the look of an imposing reliever. But his greatest success last season came after a surprise move to the rotation. 

Slania, a 2013 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, got a call on his 24th birthday telling him to prepare to start because of an injury in Richmond’s rotation. He had not started a game since high school, but his four-pitch mix worked. He had a 5.32 ERA out of the bullpen but it dropped to 1.48 in 10 starts for the Flying Squirrels. In two Triple-A starts, he struck out 14 over 13 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. The Giants put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. 

“He had a great year last year,” Bochy said. “He’s in camp for a reason. He’s got great stuff and a good makeup.”

RULE CHANGE: One more thing that came out of that rules meeting: Managers who are out of challenges now have to wait until the eighth inning to ask an umpire to look at a play.

QUOTABLE: “We know he’s better off taking some days. We talked about it (with him). He agrees that it’ll help him.” Bochy on Pence’s workload. The right fielder is coming off two injury-marred seasons, and the Giants have no intention of even trying to get him back to his Iron Man days. 

Giants spring training Day 6: Bochy looks for improvement on bases

Giants spring training Day 6: Bochy looks for improvement on bases

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants always put together a long list of potential minor league free agents as the offseason approaches and they tend to go hard after two or three players from that group. One of the guys who got the hard sell over the winter was speedy outfielder Wynton Bernard, and the Giants were attractive for reasons beyond the departures of Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco.

“I thought it was a good opportunity, and it also was a good fit for me because I’m from California,” Bernard said. 

Bernard is technically from Padres territory, but that gives him a connection to one of the men he’s hoping to impress. When Bernard was playing for Rancho Bernardo High, he often went up against a Poway High team that included a young Brett Bochy. Bruce never saw Bernard play because his job kept him away from most of Brett’s games, but he should see plenty of the 26-year-old this spring as the Giants look for a needed speed dimension. 

A big part of the staff overhaul was about making sure the Giants fare better on the bases. Roberto Kelly and Billy Hayes are out and Phil Nevin and Jose Alguacil are in. The Giants stole 79 bases last season, ranking eighth in the National League, and it’s not like they made up for the lack of small-ball by hitting the ball out of the park. Advanced metrics — tracked externally and also by the Giants — showed an inability to make an impact on the bases. According to BsR, an all-encompassing metric tracked by FanGraphs, the Giants were below average, ranking 17th in the majors. 

“We just want to be smarter baserunners,” Bochy said. “You always want to be aggressive. Everyone has the same philosophy — run hard — but it’s the old adage ‘strong to compete, smart to win.’”

A full season of Eduardo Nuñez will help, as would 162 games of Hunter Pence — who tends to make things happen on his own — and Joe Panik, one of the team’s smartest runners. Jimmy Rollins could provide speed off the bench, and Bernard hopes to make himself a viable option in the outfield. He stole 23 bags in 28 attempts last season for the Tigers’ Double-A and Triple-A teams and he stole 88 total bases the two seasons before 2016. 

The Giants know the kind of potential Bernard has, so early in the offseason he got a call telling him to hook up with fellow San Diego resident Vince Coleman, a legendary baserunner who would be joining the staff. The two worked out often in advance of spring training. 

“The Giants said he was in the area and I called him 20 minutes later,” Bernard said. “I feel like I can add a different dynamic with my speed.”

Bernard can play all three outfield spots and he sports a .360 on-base percentage in the minors. He’s likely ticketed for Triple-A for now, but a player with the same profile showed up in camp in 2012, and it wasn’t long before Gregor Blanco had locked up a roster spot. 

Whether Bernard is part of the mix, or it’s a Gorkys Hernandez or Nuñez or Kelby Tomlinson, Bochy knows he needs a little more athleticism and baserunning savvy in a division where the games are often won by one run. 

“We probably made more mistakes than we should have last year,” he said. “The numbers show it.”

CUETO UPDATE: The co-ace remains in the Dominican Republic, where he is tending to his father. The Giants don’t have a timetable for Cueto’s arrival, but he didn’t miss anything Saturday. The workout was banged because of rain. 

Cueto is at a hotel a few minutes from the club’s Santo Domingo facility and he has been working out there. The hope is that Cueto’s father soon gets well enough to travel to Arizona, where Cueto can continue to take care of him. 

NEW FACE: Slade Heathcott, a former Yankee, signed a minor league deal with the Giants on Friday. He will be in minor league camp this spring, not big league camp. The Giants liked his athleticism. 

QUOTABLE: “You can always look back, study it, learn from it … the second half, I think for everybody, you learn from it. Did we drop our guard? Hopefully it wasn’t complacency, which lets you think you have a bigger margin for error. Hopefully you learn from it.” — Bochy, when asked about the lesson learned last season. 

Bochy, Giants want bullpen competition: 'Roles are earned'

Bochy, Giants want bullpen competition: 'Roles are earned'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Tuesday was the first official day of workouts at Scottsdale Stadium, but Bruce Bochy looks at another day as the annual start of his season. 

“It seems like when the Super Bowl ends that that’s the trigger of, ‘We’re on,’” Bochy said. “For a manager you’re always thinking about things, but that’s where you say ‘it’s our time.’”

For the World Series to once again be Bochy’s time, he’ll need to find a better mix in the bullpen. The ninth inning is easy and was set in stone the second Mark Melancon put pen to paper. The rest is a puzzle, and Bochy on Tuesday clarified an earlier comment about when it might be put together. He had said at the winter meetings that the roles would be set early, but he clarified that “early” simply means sometime during the spring. The Giants seem to have all the pieces they need, just without an order, but both Bochy and general manager Bobby Evans made a point Tuesday of pushing for a more open competition. 

“Roles are earned,” Bochy said.

So, while you can picture Derek Law or Hunter Strickland in the eighth and Steven Okert or Josh Osich being the second lefty, the Giants aren’t ready to just give jobs away to young players. That was abundantly clear earlier Tuesday when David Hernandez, a seven-year veteran of the big leagues, walked into camp. Hernandez will make $1.5 million if he’s on the big league club and the Giants are certainly going to take a long look this spring. 

“Any time you can get an experienced pitcher with his stuff, now he’s definitely in the picture as we start to make up this bullpen,” Bochy said. “We lost half the bullpen or close to it with Casilla and Javi and Romo. David is a guy that’s been around. He has great stuff and he could be part of this bullpen now.”

The Giants have always liked their veterans, and there’s something to be said for having a talented young arm or two sent back to Triple-A, especially because you can bet the Giants will use the new 10-day DL to option certain pitchers back and forth. 

While Hernandez will join a big group of right-handers with MLB experience — Bryan Morris, Jose Dominguez and Neil Ramirez are among the non-roster invitees — the competition is considerably less complicated from the left side. Will Smith is a lock as the Jeremy Affeldt-type, but Bochy said Osich and Okert aren’t necessarily fighting for the lefty specialist job that opened when Lopez departed. 

“They’re both guys that can face right-handers,” Bochy said.

Osich was equally tough on lefties and righties as a rookie, but right-handed hitters put up a .371 on-base percentage and slugged .528 against him last year. Osich is confident that offseason knee surgery will get him back to his old self, and Bochy is hopeful that Osich’s changeup returns to form. Okert has a more limited big league resume, but the staff feels that he too can be a full-inning guy. 

Bochy expects clarity in all these races during the last half or third of spring, and he said that while he wants a more defined bullpen than he had a year ago, he also won’t get caught up in titles.

“Every game is a little bit different,” he said. 

Some might call for George Kontos and his ability to pick up a starter. Some might call for Cory Gearrin’s repertoire against tough right-handed hitters. Some will call for possibilities you can’t envision in February or March. Bochy has won three titles in large part because of his ability to sort through those hurdles, and after a rare down year for the group, he’s eager to right the ship.

“I really feel that when we leave here we’re going to have a good bullpen, a solid bullpen, and they’re going to complement each other from the left and right side,” he said. “When you have your closer, it’s a little bit easier to build down.”