News came down on Saturday that the San Francisco Giants had decided to make up their July 4 rainout against the Cincinnati Reds with a July 23 traditional doubleheader in San Francisco. While this decision does provide some benefits, namely giving the Giants an 82nd home game, it does put them in a bit of a box in terms of starting pitching. They will have to use six starters in their first five games coming out of the break, creating the need for a spot starter.
Because the provision in the new MLB CBA says that teams may call up a 26th player only for a day-night doubleheader, the Giants will have to make a move in order to recall a pitcher from the minor leagues, considering that no one in their bullpen is really capable of starting. For the sake of continuity, it would seem that the most likely move would be to recall lefty Michael Kickham from Triple-A, as he has already started three games for the club this year. But another possibility lies in recently recovered left-hander Eric Surkamp, who started pitching in games last month following his Tommy John surgery last July.
First of all, it would seem that giving Kickham another start is basically conceding the game. The 24-year-old has an atrocious 10.61 ERA over five appearances, and has given up at least one home run in each of his appearances. He has a 2.04 WHIP to this point in the season. He hasn’t exactly been a picture of consistency in the minors this year either, putting up a 4.81 ERA in 14 starts for the Fresno Grizzlies. Since he does have some major-league potential — he has above average velocity and is averaging more than a strikeout per inning at the big-league level this year — it would be best for Kickham if he could develop at Fresno without having to be yo-yoed back-and-forth as he has been this year.
More importantly, though, Surkamp seems to be more major-league-ready than Kickham and could give the Giants a viable alternative in the rotation. The 26-year-old lefty was considered the Giants’ best pitching prospect in August of 2011 when he was recalled to finish out the regular season with the major league team. His numbers were underwhelming, as he had a 5.74 ERA over six starts, but he looked to have the pure stuff that it takes to be successful in the big leagues.
Surkamp was supposed to challenge Barry Zito for the Giants’ fifth starter spot last spring, but he injured his elbow before the end of camp. After months of rest and rehabilitation, he finally underwent Tommy John surgery, which knocked him out for nearly a full year. But since his return to baseball in early June, Surkamp has dominated minor league hitters. The lefty started off with High-A San Jose, holding hitters to a .157 average while allowing eight hits, five earned runs, 17 strikeouts, and three walks over 15.1 innings.
Since he has moved up to Triple-A Fresno, Surkamp seems to be back to full health. In his first three starts, he has thrown five innings twice and gone six innings once. He has put up a 2.81 ERA, which is very impressive in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. His only issue has come with his command, as he walked six batters in his last start and has struggled to get strikeouts. It’s worth noting, however, that these have been Surkamp’s first three starts at the Triple-A level after being plucked straight out of Double-A in 2011.
Since these two lefties seem to be the only realistic possibilities to fill the spot starter role, the Giants must decide on two factors: which starter will be more effective, and which one’s development will be less interrupted by coming up. With Kickham’s entire month of July having been spent moving between Triple-A and the big leagues, he hasn’t really been able to work on his craft since his last minor league start on June 20. For a young player like Kickham who clearly needs to develop, it would make more sense to leave him in the minors.
Though his health definitely plays into the equation, it would be most logical to give an intriguing prospect like Surkamp a shot. The lefthander should give the Giants the best shot to win, and it’s a good opportunity to evaluate him for future starting opportunities.