Though they have been solid this season while being faced with adversity, the San Francisco Giants bullpen has definitely struggled as of late.
The relievers have blown three of the Giants’ four games, and no one has shown absolute reliability. The closest thing the Giants have had to that, right-handed rookie Jean Machi, could not answer the call of duty last night and gave up three straight singles, allowing two inherited runners to score plus one of his own, and could not record an out. In addition, lefty Jeremy Affeldt has been inconsistent, blowing leads in his last two appearances. To be fair to Affeldt, he has been put into setup situations versus both left-handed and right-handed hitters, and has struggled versus the righties, giving up eight runs over 14 innings. He will be greatly helped by the return of right-hander Santiago Casilla, who can take away some of those situations versus right-anded hitters.
Though Casilla was expected to be out until after the All-Star break following a procedure to remove a cyst from his knee, he has progressed much more quickly than expected and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday. If he continues at this pace, he could go on a rehab assignment next week and be ready to go around the Fourth of July.
Casilla’s return would be a massive boost to the bullpen in more ways than one. He would allow Affeldt to shift back to more of a left-handed specialist role, and would let Machi throw in more low-pressure situations. Since establishing himself, Machi has been a bit overused by Bruce Bochy recently and it would be nice for him to be backed off on a bit. In addition, his return allows the Giants to subtract one of their untested young relievers, either Jake Dunning or Sandy Rosario. Most importantly, Casilla provides almost complete reliability. He had a 1.89 ERA in 21 appearances this season, and has been one of the most consistent middle relievers in baseball since joining the Giants in 2010. He has kept his ERA under 2.00 each season, and provides the bullpen with their best power arm.
Regaining Casilla pushes the Giants one step closer in their attempt to solidify the bullpen. While it looked great as recently as a few days ago, it is now apparent that the team needs some more sturdy arms for the late innings. Righty George Kontos could emerge later in the season after rediscovering his form in Triple-A, but after him, the best options probably lie in the Giants’ current starting rotation. Chad Gaudin and Tim Lincecum have both previously been effective out of the bullpen, and if the Giants can regain Ryan Vogelsong and acquire another starter through the trade market, both Gaudin and Lincecum could become relievers for the stretch run.
Perhaps the Giants’ most effective weapon in their two World Series victories has been the reliability of their relievers. The return of Casilla should allow them to move back towards that effectiveness.