As it turns out, the San Francisco Giants are missing Brian Wilson and Guillermo Mota a lot more than they thought they would. The team decided to let go of the two veteran relievers this past offseason, comfortable with the amount of pitching depth they had in their system. But due to injuries to Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt and an iffy sophomore performance from George Kontos, the Giants’ bullpen has been ever-changing this year and has been very inconsistent at times.
The performance of the relievers over the month of September will likely play a big role in deciding which pitchers go into next spring penciled into bullpen spots. The Giants already have several relievers up battling for jobs next year in Guillermo Moscoso and Jean Machi, and they likely will reinforce their relief corps on September 1 or shortly after by recalling George Kontos, Jake Dunning, and Heath Hembree.
If not for roster politics that are keeping Barry Zito and Moscoso on the 25-man roster, Dunning would be in the big leagues right now. The 25-year-old righthander was extremely impressive in his first tour of major league duty this summer, putting together a 2.84 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP and .209 BAA in 19 innings while becoming a key member of the bullpen. In a rather nonsensical move, the Giants acquired the 29-year-old Moscoso from the Chicago Cubs‘ Triple-A team at the end of July and called him up to the big leagues, necessitating Dunning’s return to the minors. Dunning has been unscored upon in eight appearances since returning to Triple-A, and there’s no reason he should not return to San Francisco on September 1. His stats with the Fresno Grizzlies this year are absolutely dominant—he has a miniscule 1.38 ERA in 45.2 innings—so Dunning should be under high consideration for a full-time bullpen role with the big-league team next year.
Kontos hasn’t been great this year during his time in the big leagues—he has a 5.05 ERA in 46.1 innings—but he was one of the Giants’ best pitchers out of the bullpen during their World Series run last season, and they need this next month to see if he can return to form and be a factor with their team going forward. He was actually pitching better before his most recent demotion but was the odd man out following a long relief appearance, so it will be interesting to see if he can continue with that success.
Hembree may be the most intriguing of the Giants’ impending call-ups. Team officials have already notified the beat reporters that Hembree will be coming up, since the team would be required to add him to the 40-man roster after the season anyway to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, so it only makes sense to give him a chance. Hembree, who has been one of the Giants’ top prospects over the past couple years, is in his second year at Triple-A and has struggled through some prolonged periods of inconsistency. But he’s been unscored upon since July 31 and has held hitters to a .174 average since the All-Star break.
Several players are notably omitted from this list. Lefthander Dan Runzler, who has gotten varying levels of major-league action each year since 2009, probably will be designated for assignment to make room for some players called up who are not already on the 40-man roster, such as Hembree. Runzler was at one time thought to be a future closer due to his ability to get up to 100 MPH on the radar gun and strike hitters out. He began to struggle with injury and confidence issues, however, and he has significantly regressed. He had a 6.00 ERA over 32 minor-league appearances last year, and has put up a 5.90, including a 7.36 ERA since the All-Star break, this year. With Runzler being out of options next season, it makes no sense for the Giants to continue to try to resuscitate his career.
Secondly, Brett Bochy, the son of manager Bruce Bochy, has had a great season, but there just isn’t enough 40-man roster space to give him a September tryout. Bochy has been the Giants’ most consistent Triple-A reliever and has a 4.21 ERA this year, which includes a 3.16 since June 1. Unfortunately, his stuff isn’t as good as Hembree’s, so he will need to wait until spring training to prove himself worthy of a big-league bullpen spot.