The San Francisco Giants made yet another bold move on Wednesday, as they optioned right-handed reliever George Kontos to Triple-A Fresno and recalled Sandy Rosario, who will begin his third stint with the team this year. Kontos follows catcher Hector Sanchez as another key member of the 2012 World Series team who has been sent down following a poor sophomore performance.
Kontos, who turned 28 on Wednesday, was nothing less than spectacular during last year’s divisional series versus the Cincinnati Reds, throwing 3.2 scoreless innings across four appearances. Though he was less-used and less effective during the NLCS and World Series, he was expected to be a key member of the bullpen entering 2013 after having a 2.47 ERA in 44 regular season games in 2012.
Kontos pitched well in spring training, but he gave up a costly home run to Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw on opening day and never really recovered. After an eight-game scoreless streak in late April and into early May, he seemed to be feeling the effects of overuse by manager Bruce Bochy, as he pitched in 28 games over the first two months of the season.
Following the emergence of rookie reliever Jean Machi, Kontos lost his job as a trusted late-inning reliever and was thrown into the long relief role recently. This was epitomized by his appearance in both ends of a doubleheader in St. Louis on June 1 during which the Cardinals outscored the Giants 15-1.
After those two appearances, Kontos did not appear in a game again until yesterday, when he had arguably his worst outing of the year, giving up three runs, walking two batters and being ejected after hitting Andrew McCutchen on what the right-hander called “a sinker that got away from me a little bit.” It is worth noting, however, that the Giants could have been out for revenge after the Pirates hit Marco Scutaro on the hand with a pitch earlier in the game.
Following his appearance last night, his ERA was all the way up to 5.76.
The demotion of Kontos could be a significant hit to the club’s chemistry. While he has struggled on the mound, Kontos was, by all indications, a lighthearted leader who provided a welcomed presence in the bullpen and in the clubhouse. He was particularly well-liked by the fans and reporters for his active participation in social media.
More puzzling than the decision to demote Kontos is that the Giants recalled Rosario once again. The 27-year-old reliever has been with the team for two short periods this year, brought up as a temporary piece capable of providing extended innings. While it is possible that Rosario has been brought in to fill Chad Gaudin‘s recently vacated long reliever role, his prior reputation as short-term roster filler brings up the question of whether a young reliever such as Heath Hembree or Jake Dunning could soon join the club.
Hembree is the club’s top relief prospect and is considered a future closer by many, with velocity that often touches the upper 90s. Bochy recently said that the 24-year-old is “almost ready”, and he has had two good appearances for Fresno after a brief period of misfortune. He now has a 3.62 ERA with 30 strikeouts over 27.1 innings.
Dunning has been by far Fresno’s most effective reliever this year, and it is a bit of a shocker that he has not gotten a chance with the Giants yet. Though he is 24 and on his first go-round in Triple-A, he is on the 40-man roster and possesses a 1.75 ERA over 36 innings. It is also notable that Dunning, like Rosario, is capable of going long, as he has thrown those innings over 23 appearances.
No matter the Giants’ intentions with this move, it is imperative that Kontos or one of his new Fresno teammates step up, as Rosario’s 13.06 career MLB ERA, and teammate Ramon Ramirez‘s general ineffectiveness and unreliability identify a clear lack of talent in this bullpen.
Once the team gets into key games down the stretch, they will need legitimate shutdown relievers, and most of the pitchers among the current group do not really fit that profile. Though the addition of the currently-injured Santiago Casilla around the All-Star Break will certainly help, someone needs to turn it around to give the Giants a trusted option late in games.