The San Francisco Giants made some difficult but inevitable cuts from their spring training roster on Friday evening, optioning pitchers Erik Cordier and Jake Dunning to Triple-A Fresno while reassigning pitchers Brett Bochy and Adam Reifer, catcher Guillermo Quiroz, and first baseman Mark Minicozzi to minor league camp. One rather surprising cut, though, came as the team optioned pitcher Heath Hembree to Triple-A.
Hembree seemed to have penciled himself into a big-league bullpen role during the tail end of the 2013 season. After straightening himself out following two up-and-down years in Triple-A, Hembree was on fire following his big-league debut last September 3. Over nine appearances spanning 7.2 innings, Hembree gave up no runs, held hitters to a .148 average, and struck out 12 batters. While his velocity wasn’t quite the near-100 MPH heat that he had dished out in the minors, Hembree flashed improved control and a viable breaking pitch.
Hembree was very good overall this spring, but he didn’t seem to get a whole lot of work following a February 28 outing where he gave up a run, walked a batter and balked without recording any outs. The 25-year-old pitched only three times during the month of March and hadn’t thrown since March 16. It’s conceivable that he could have been injured, and the team wanted to avoid having him on the major-league disabled list. With that said, the team has an extremely deep bullpen group, and that one poor outing may have done him in.
With Hembree and the other relievers who were sent down now out of the picture, San Francisco has three spots that are being competed for by David Huff, George Kontos, Jean Machi, Yusmeiro Petit, Juan Gutierrez, Derek Law, Kameron Loe, and Dan Runzler.
Loe would seem to have the odds against him, considering that he hasn’t done a whole lot to separate himself from the pack and must be notified by early next week if he is going to make the team due to a clause in the 2012 CBA. While Law has had some good moments this spring, he’s never pitched above Class A and it doesn’t seem like he’s been dominant enough this spring to really deserve a big-league spot.
Seeing as Bruce Bochy said Hembree was hurt by his inability to throw multiple innings, Huff and Petit would seem to be favorites with their experience as starters. Beyond those two, one among Kontos and Machi would seem to be the most logical option. Kontos has the better numbers this spring, although Machi has the better stuff and had a better regular season in 2013.
With that said, don’t be too surprised if Gutierrez or Runzler sneaks in and claims a spot. Gutierrez has substantial big league experience, provides a power arm, and has been good this spring. Runzler has great velocity and has been fantastic this spring, too, although if Huff makes the team it might not make sense to have Runzler as a fourth lefty.