SAN FRANCISCO — It is generally a terrible idea to wade into free agency with the belief that you’re going to fix your bullpen. Free agent relievers are older, with too much mileage on their arms and salaries that are out of whack with their limited roles.
For years, the Giants avoided paying big bucks in that sinkhole-filled market. They developed from within and turned to reclamation projects, and if those players panned out, they were rewarded with big deals and kept in the fold. Last season, the Giants had no choice. They turned to Mark Melancon, giving him what was at the time a record deal ($62 million) for a reliever. Melancon has a mysterious arm injury that at some point this month will require a shutdown and medical procedure that will sideline him for six to eight weeks.
The Giants do not want to go down that path again. The thing is, what other choice do they have? As scary as free agent relievers are, this current group is a nightmare that no manager should have to deal with.
Bruce Bochy once again tried to pull different levers Friday night. Just about every choice left Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti staring out at the field in disbelief.
Eight different members of the bullpen took the mound. Four of them gave up runs, including the three pitchers — Melancon, Sam Dyson and Hunter Strickland — who are supposed to control the final third of the game. Another, Josh Osich, continued his trend of walking the first batter he faces. He was done after that. The other clean sheets belonged to two relievers called up Friday morning — Derek Law and Steven Okert — and one — Kyle Crick — who has been a rare bright spot.
The Giants gave up nine runs in the final three innings. They lost 11-6 to the Cardinals, wasting a huge night from Brandon Crawford and a solid return from Johnny Cueto.
Bochy has been dealing with this problem for two seasons. Rarely has the collapse been so all-encompassing.
“I can’t recall one that was as tough for us as tonight,” he said. “You look at the extra-base hits (the Cardinals) had — six there in the last three innings against our setup guys and closer. You’re probably not going to win ballgames like that.”
Strickland gave up two in the seventh to get the Cardinals going. Melancon was charged with one in the eighth. Dyson was charged with five runs after coming into a tied game in the ninth.
Melancon is locked in here long-term, and the Giants expect big things once he gets his arm fixed up. Dyson has been a revelation, and this was just one bad night. But for the rest of the relievers, this is audition time, and it would be hard for Bochy to look around Friday night and see many pitchers he wants getting high-pressure roles next season. He called the final month “critical” for some of his younger pitchers and vets who want to return.
“We’re evaluating and trying to figure out what we need to do to get back where we were,” he said. “These are big games for everybody. We’re going to look at everything and see where we can improve. It’s not a lot of fun to be in this situation when you’re used to being in important games, but because of that, these are important games.”
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