Giants hoped ’23 rotation has enough ‘defensive lines’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
With four returning starting pitchers, a top prospect who doesn’t look far from his debut and plenty of depth options back from last year’s roster, no one would really blink if the Giants avoid making rotation upgrades this offseason while pursuing bigger names .
But between the failed pursuit of Aaron Judge and the end of the Carlos Correa saga, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi added two more veterans to the mix, Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea, both of whom signed two-year contracts with the likelihood of opening the 2023 MLB season in the rotation.
The Giants will enter camp in two weeks with six healthy and experienced starting options, which they believe is important. All you have to do is go back to last September to see why so much attention was paid to the rotation over the winter.
Beginning on September 6, the Giants have used 13 home runs in their last 29 games. While they actually did well in their bullpen — they went 7-4 in John Brebbia’s 11 starts, for example — it was clear that there was a cascading effect.
The bullpen was gassed at times and finished fifth in the majors in innings pitched. A year after leading the majors in ERA, the group finished 20th. Speaking with beat reporters late last month, Zaidi said the pitching staff is trying to limit those workloads, and if all six starting pitchers are healthy, the Giants could use some different methods to try to get extra rest for all.
“I think it’s really going to be a mix. There may be some situations where we go to a six-man rotation over a period of time,” he said. “The downside to that is you’re down to a seven-man bullpen, but if you have rested starters that go deep into games and you have guys in the bullpen that can throw some innings, that can help mitigate that. I think there’s going to be times where we’re going to do it, there’s going to be times where we’re going to connect with guys and try to use two of our starters to go through a full game and give the rest of them a day off.
“That’s something we’ve heard a lot from our contributors over the last few years, which is that there’s a lot of value—and it’s kind of intuitive—in games where almost the entire ‘pen has an off day. If he can get a guy to throw five innings and then have a guy come in behind him and throw the final four, that’s huge, that’s huge for the entire bullpen. It’s not a strategy or a matchup as much as it’s load management and a way to keep everybody healthy.”
The Giants should be especially prepared for a tandem or counter strategy given their current personnel. For the first time in a while, they appear poised to carry a true long reliever — Jakob Younis — all season. Sam Long and Sean Helle can start the season in Triple-A as depth options who can go a few innings when needed in the big leagues.
If all goes according to plan, one of the veteran starters could also sit with the relievers every night. Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood are healthy and already starting bullpen sessions, but someone could be headed to a bullpen if there are no hiccups in Scottsdale.
Those issues often have a way of working themselves out in March, as the Giants were reminded in 2021. Logan Webb was the best pitcher in spring camp, but entered the contest behind five veterans after the late addition of Aaron Sanchez. An injury to Wood put Webb in the rotation anyway, and while Webb was briefly back in the bullpen when Wood returned in April, he ended up being the team’s No. 1 starter by the end of the year.
Something similar could happen this year if Kyle Harrison lives up to the hype. Giants folks who have seen Harrison work out recently expect a huge spring, but barring a major league roster disaster, he will begin the season in Triple-A with the promise that he can make his way to the big leagues relatively quickly .
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After years of waiting for help from the farm system, the hope is that waves are starting to arrive at Oracle Park. The Giants added Tristan Beck and Keaton Wynn to the 40-man roster over the winter and are confident they’ve built enough depth to withstand the usual injuries and absences of a 162-game season.
“I go back to last year and the pressure it causes, both on the field and in the clubhouse and the front office, when you have an injury and there’s literally no one to start an upcoming game,” Zaidi said. “You have to start thinking about playing bullpen or picking someone on the roster that you haven’t thought about before.
“These things can be really taxing and putting yourself in a situation where you have lines of defense before you get into that situation, that was part of the reason we added some starters to a pretty full group that it is.”
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