San Francisco Giants Come Close to Setting Opening Day Bullpen

By Patrick Karraker
San Francisco Giants David Huff
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With several events that occurred Sunday, the San Francisco Giants gave us a pretty good idea as to who will be part of their relief pitching corps when the regular season comes around.

First, they gave righthander Derek Law another chance to audition for a spot, and he didn’t deliver. The 23-year-old, who has never pitched above Class A, walked a hitter, balked, issued two hits, and ended up giving up two earned runs over a third of an inning. Today was Law’s worst performance of the spring, and he is now the owner of a 5.40 Cactus League ERA.

Law has always seemed to be somewhat of a dark horse to make the team, but today’s outing should just about ensure that he will not start the season with the big-league club. After all, a similar performance was a huge detriment to Heath Hembree’s chances, and Hembree has already spent two years in Triple-A and had a brief shot in the majors at the end of last season. If Hembree’s youth was enough to remove him from contention, there is no reason that a pitcher as inexperienced as Law should be part of the team, even after having a up-and-down spring. Interestingly, he survived the latest roster cut, but you would have to think that he’s remaining solely to soak up as much experience as possible.

After the game, the Giants cut two more players from the bullpen battle by optioning George Kontos to Triple-A Fresno and reassigning Dan Runzler to minor league camp. Kontos, who was a key performer on the 2012 World Series team, was probably hurt more by his less-than-stellar 2013 season than anything. Over seven appearances spanning six innings, Kontos was very efficient, putting together a 3.00 ERA while remaining unsecured upon during the entire month of March. Ultimately, though, there just didn’t seem to be room for him, and it probably didn’t help his cause that he is righthanded, not a long reliever, and doesn’t have overpowering stuff.

As for Runzler, he was a whole lot better than he had looked over the past few seasons. The hard-throwing left-hander allowed only two earned runs while picking up seven strikeouts in 6.2 spring innings. Perhaps most impressively, though, he walked only two hitters. Runzler has struggled mightily with command over the past couple years, and his control looked much better this spring. More than anything, he was a victim of a numbers game with lefties Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, and David Huff all projected to be in the big-league bullpen. If anyone—particularly the injury-prone Affeldt and Huff—goes down, Runzler would be a prime candidate to come up and fill a role.

With today’s moves, Law, Huff, J.C. Gutierrez, Yusmeiro Petit, and Jean Machi remain as the five candidates left for the three available bullpen roles. Though the hard-throwing Gutierrez has been fantastic this spring, it would seem that Machi, Huff, and Petit. Those three are already on the 40-man roster and are out of options, and Huff and Petit are capable of going long innings. That is a desirable quality that manager Bruce Bochy emphasized when he sent out Hembree on Friday.

While that group of three may not sound extremely desirable, they do fit the profiles of the relievers who Bochy has felt comfortable going to over the past several years. Petit is capable of filling the long relief role (most admirably filled by Guillermo Mota) and going several innings whenever the starter struggles. Huff is a lefty with some stamina and decent fastball velocity who can fill the third left-hander role, which had been held by Jose Mijares for the past several years. Due to the presence of Affeldt and Lopez, he probably won’t get a ton of high-pressure appearances against left-handed hitters; instead, he’ll likely be asked to soak up innings and go several innings at a time when the bullpen needs some rest.

Machi, meanwhile, will take over a role as a right-handed middle reliever which has been filled by pitchers such as himself, Kontos, Jake Dunning, and Clay Hensley over the past several years. While he’ll be behind Santiago Casilla in the pecking order, he will still be relied on to get key outs, and the Giants will undoubtedly be hoping that he returns to the spectacular form which he showed at times during 2013.

Patrick Karraker is a San Francisco Giants writer for Follow him on Twitter @PatrickKarraker, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your network on Google.

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