SAN DIEGO – Not long ago, Dan Runzler accomplished something that no Giants minor leaguer has ever done before.
He began the 2009 season at Low-A Augusta and was promoted four times – to Single-A San Jose, then Double-A Norwich, then Triple-A Fresno and finally to the major leagues, where his dazzling 98 mph fastball and slider made an immediate impact. Club officials couldn't remember any prospect climbing the ladder from all four full-season affiliates to the big leagues in one year.
The first batter Runzler faced, the Brewers’ Jody Gerut, struck out on three pitches.
But Runzler couldn’t sustain his success. And almost exactly four years after that electric performance in Milwaukee, Runzler’s time with the Giants appears to be at an end.
The club designated the 28-year-old left-hander for assignment, along with infielder/outfielder Kensuke Tanaka, to clear space on the 40-man roster. The Giants have a new hard-throwing reliever, Heath Hembree, that they wanted to introduce to the big leagues. His contract was purchased, along with power-hitting catcher Johnny Monell as the Giants added eight players to the active roster.
Runzler appeared in 89 games as a Giant from 2009-12 but dealt with a recurring lat strain that he sustained on the final day of the ’11 season. He was excited at being healthy again this spring, and although he wasn’t expected to make the big league bullpen, he was nonetheless distraught upon being told he was being optioned to Fresno.
He didn’t have a good year for the Grizzlies. Runzler allowed nearly two baserunners per inning and had a 5.68 ERA at Fresno, including 14 earned runs over his last 16 appearances.
Even if he clears waivers, he has enough service time to declare as a minor league free agent this winter. There’s little doubt he’ll seek a fresh start elsewhere.
As for Tanaka, he was a defensive liability at second base this spring but made his major league debut as an outfielder July 9 and hit .267 with a .353 on-base percentage in 15 games. It was a dream fulfilled for Tanaka, who declined a $2 million guarantee from the Nippon Ham Fighters to try to play in the big leagues.
Plus, he got to meet President Obama. And whenever you look at the White House photo from that visit in future years, you can see Tanaka and Jeff Francoeur oddly standing front and center and smiling.