Things will be less fluid in the San Francisco Giants’ bullpen than they have been in recent years, as four of the seven pitchers who will be part of the Opening Day relief corps were not on the team’s roster to start the season last year. Left-handed setup man Jeremy Affeldt is temporarily out of the picture after suffering an MCL sprain, so it should be particularly interesting to see how the Giants decide to divide up responsibilities in the ‘pen.
Three things are for certain: Sergio Romo will serve as the closer, Santiago Casilla will be the most trusted right-handed reliever, and Javier Lopez will be the primary left-handed specialist. Beyond those three, though, nothing is set in stone, and it could change at a moment’s notice. Right-handers Yusmeiro Petit, Juan Gutierrez, and Jean Machi and lefty David Huff are all in the picture.
Petit figures to fill the primary long relief role, considering his starting experience and the fact that the Giants want to keep him stretched out in case he ends up needing to fill a starting role. With that said, he’s been dominant over his last few spring training performances, so it would not be overly surprising to see him get some occasional opportunities in more high-pressure situations.
Huff’s role will probably change throughout the season, but for now he should effectively replace Affeldt. He’ll get opportunities to take on lefty hitters, but his wealth of experience as a starter will allow him to be similar to Affeldt in his ability to face righties and go for multiple innings. Ultimately, though, Huff is probably likely to fill a role similar to Jose Mijares’s a year ago, soaking up innings and serving as the third left-hander on the totem pole.
The division between Gutierrez and Machi’s roles should be the most interesting to see play out. Machi was very effective at times during 2013, he had the numbers to show for it, finishing with a 2.38 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. Machi was effective for the most part in pressure situations, putting together a 2.25 ERA in late and close appearances. However, eight of his 12 walks came in these situations, and he did not convert on either of his two save opportunities. Combining that bit of unreliability with the fact that Machi had a shaky spring training, it may be a little difficult to trust him when the game is on the line.
The 30-year-old Gutierrez has not had a whole lot of success over his 203 big-league appearances, possessing a 4.65 ERA over five seasons. With that said, he has an overpowering high-90s fastball, and he had a spectacular spring, holding hitters to a .200 average with a 1.69 ERA over 10.2 innings. Gutierrez also has starting experience and could be stretched out to throw in long relief, but if he keeps up the high level of performance that he has displayed this year, it may make morse sense to have him as the secondary righty behind Casilla, facing right-handed hitters in the seventh and eighth innings as needed.
There will certainly be a whole lot more pressure on these pitchers than those of the recent past, as the Giants should have Affeldt back in a few weeks and have several legitimate big-league relievers, such as Heath Hembree, George Kontos and Jake Dunning, waiting in Triple-A. We’ll get a much better idea of how things will shake out to start the year over the next few days, but each pitcher will need to perform well if he wants to maintain the role that he is initially assigned.