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Giants look for pitching depth as Spring Training looms

Club seeks improvement after worst season for starting rotation since 2006

SAN FRANCISCO -- The quality of a ballclub's depth typically emerges as the season progresses. But the Giants might receive some answers about their potential pitching reinforcements in the next several weeks.

Lack of qualified fill-ins prompted the pitching staff to fall from its perch among the National League's elite last year. But with pitchers and catchers due to report next Friday to Scottsdale, Ariz., for Spring Training, the Giants at least appear to have respectable candidates to bolster both the starting rotation and the bullpen.

The lack of depth hit the starting rotation particularly hard last year. Giants' starters recorded a 4.37 ERA, their worst since they posted a 4.58 figure in 2006. Barry Zito never established consistency and Ryan Vogelsong dealt with ineffectiveness, then injury.

Asked recently to explain his confidence that the Giants have enough starters to avoid a similar collapse, general manager Brian Sabean said, "I can't tell you I have that confidence yet. We're going to find that out in Spring Training, [with] the competition for the 11th or 12th pitcher, and how much our younger guys progressed over the year.

"To me, that's exciting."

Hence the Giants will monitor their modestly accomplished starters as closely as their front five (Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson and Vogelsong), each of whom has made at least one All-Star team. A role as a long reliever -- who likely would be the first pitcher called upon when a substitute starter is needed -- probably awaits the winner of the competition that could develop among Yusmeiro Petit, Edwin Escobar and David Huff.

Petit will enter Spring Training as the favorite to secure an Opening Day roster spot. Petit, whose bid for a perfect game ended last Sept. 6 when Arizona's Eric Chavez stroked a two-out, two-strike single, didn't excel until late last season, when he went 4-0 in six starts before losing.

Escobar, the rookie left-hander who's ranked 95th on's list of top prospects, demonstrated his savvy as well as his talent last year by improving statistically as he rose a classification. He recorded a 2.67 ERA at Double-A Richmond, down from 2.89 at advanced Class A San Jose. Double-A opponents hit .219 off him, compared with .234 in Class A.

The 29-year-old Huff probably would have competed for the No. 5 spot in the Yankees' rotation before they sent him to the Giants for cash considerations. He possesses more Major League starting experience (54 games) than either Petit or Escobar.

Both Petit and Huff are out of Minor League options, which adds an element of urgency to the competition. Neither can be sent to Triple-A without first being exposed to waivers.

Attrition also hit the Giants' bullpen last year. Chad Gaudin's move to the rotation left a void in the relief corps that became more glaring when Santiago Casilla, the Giants' top right-handed setup man, spent May 21-July 13 on the disabled list after undergoing surgery to remove a bone cyst near his right knee.

Right-handers Jake Dunning, Heath Hembree, Jean Machi and Sandy Rosario each sustained stretches of effectiveness in stints with the Giants last year and will scramble for one or possibly two bullpen openings, with Jeremy Affeldt, Casilla, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo assured of jobs. Another candidate is right-hander Derek Law, who excelled in the Arizona Fall League.

Chris Haft is a reporter for Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat.

San Francisco Giants, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito