Before the Giants faced the Pirates on Friday night, left-handed reliever Caleb Baragar was asked if he remembered the last time he had given up an earned run.
“Houston, I think,” Baragar answered correctly. “Something like that.”
It was Aug. 12, 2020, to be precise. That day, Baragar was tagged for four runs over two-thirds of an inning against the Astros at Minute Maid Park, marking the third consecutive game in which he’d been roughed up in his rookie season for the Giants.
Over his next 30 outings, though, Baragar was nearly spotless, logging 25 1/3 innings without giving up an earned run. That streak came to an end after he surrendered two runs (one earned) in the 11th inning of the Giants’ 3-2 walk-off loss to the Pirates.
“I try not to think about that, to be honest,” Baragar said before the game. “I’m just trying to go out there every day and do my job. I’m not really shooting for a scoreless streak. I have had some outings that I haven’t been super thrilled with, even though the results have been good.”
Even after Friday night’s hiccup, Baragar still has a 0.77 ERA in 11 2/3 innings over his first 15 appearances of the 2021 campaign and has begun to earn more opportunities to pitch in high-leverage situations.
The Giants have been looking for more reliable arms to emerge out of their bullpen, which entered Friday with a 4.09 ERA that ranked 21st in the Majors. Jake McGee and Tyler Rogers have been the bulwarks at the back end of the bullpen, but the rest of the group has been erratic thus far. Reyes Moronta (right flexor strain) and José Álvarez (right ankle sprain) are currently on the injured list, and Matt Wisler, Camilo Doval and Jarlin García have endured rough patches to start the season.
Baragar was primarily a starter in the Minors, but he transitioned to the bullpen after debuting with the Giants last year. He said he’s more comfortable with the relief role in his second season in the Majors, where he’s adopted a fastball-heavy approach much like McGee, who threw his heater 96.4% of the time in 2020.
Baragar has upped his fastball usage from 74.5% in 2020 to 80% this season, but he’s still mixing in his slider, which was an area of focus for him during Spring Training.
“I feel pretty good with it now,” Baragar said. “I'm starting to get some confidence, which is something I really lacked last year with my offspeed pitches, for sure. It's nice to be able to have something I can throw for a strike other than a fastball and be confident that I'm able to throw another wrinkle in there. It kind of gives me a little bit more wiggle room when my fastball command is not as good as it was towards the end of last year. This year, being able to throw that slider has really been able to help me ... pitch more instead of just throw, if that makes sense.”
Manager Gabe Kapler admitted that he wasn’t aware of Baragar’s streak, but he said he’s been pleased with the strides the 27-year-old has taken over the last couple of seasons with the Giants.
“He's historically a strike-thrower,” Kapler said. “I think what made him so effective last year was he came in the game, he knew that his fastball was his weapon, and he attacked the strike zone with his fastball. Sometimes the ball got hit hard, and we'd run it down and catch it. Sometimes it was a pop up or a swing and miss, but we just felt a lot of confidence that he could repeat his delivery and throw strikes.
“His stuff has come and gone a little bit, but he hasn't stopped attacking with his pitches. I think that's given him an opportunity to have a run like the one you mentioned. I have to go dig into that a little bit more, but he's a guy that we depended on last year, and we're going to continue to depend on going forward.”