Inbox: Who'll get the ball in the 9th inning?

July 2nd, 2020

Plenty of questions continue to swirl around the Giants ahead of the first official workout of training camp at Oracle Park. We’ll attempt to provide some answers in the latest edition of Giants Inbox.

Who is projected to be the closer?
-- @Steppenwolf2nd via Twitter

Manager Gabe Kapler addressed this topic in an interview with KNBR earlier this week and highlighted two players who could get opportunities to pitch the ninth this season.

“During Spring Training, emerged as a guy who can take down really important pockets of the opponents’ lineups, because he’s got the ability to go through left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters, induce ground balls and get uncomfortable swings,” Kapler said during an appearance on "Tolbert, Krueger and Brooks” on Monday. “There’s no real stretch in anybody’s lineup that would potentially be overwhelming for Rog. He’s a good candidate.”

Rogers, 29, doesn’t have much big league experience, but the submariner continued to baffle hitters this spring and was working to increase his effectiveness against lefties by locating more of his pitches up and in. The mentality of a closer also seems to run in his family, as his twin brother, Taylor, holds the ninth-inning role for the Twins.

Kapler also mentioned veteran left-hander , who will enter the season as one of the Giants’ most experienced back-end options. Watson, 35, was slowed by left shoulder tightness during Spring Training, but he is expected to be ready by Opening Day and will give the Giants a good option against blocks of left-handed hitters.

Still, the Giants are known to prioritize flexibility, so they could prefer to adopt a closer-by-committee approach rather than lock one guy into the ninth inning.

“The one thing I just want to make clear is while if somebody emerges as a surefire closer option for us, a guy that fits the ninth inning, we’ll absolutely put that person in that role," Kapler said. "However, we want these guys to be flexible to take down multiple innings, because, as you guys know, we’re not going to have our starters built up at the end of camp to take five, six, seven innings. So, we’re going to need a little more bulk from some of our relievers."

On video, Johnny Cueto looks like he’s in the best shape of his life. Where and how do you see him used in the rotation after such a long layoff?
-- @ohdanny75 via Twitter

Indeed, Cueto kept himself in shape during the hiatus by throwing live bullpen sessions against such hitters as former Giant Eduardo Núñez in his native Dominican Republic. It’s difficult to simulate game intensity, though, so the Giants won’t really know how stretched out Cueto or the rest of their starters are until everyone reports to Oracle Park for training camp later this week.

Cueto was named the Giants’ Opening Day starter one day before baseball was forced to shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. He’ll presumably remain Kapler’s choice to start the regular-season opener on July 23 or July 24 and should headline the pitching staff now that he’s back from Tommy John surgery, but he probably won’t be expected to go six or seven innings at the beginning of the 2020 campaign.

With only a three-week ramp-up period, traditional starters like Cueto might be able to go only three innings or so before giving way to a “bulk” reliever. Still, expanded rosters will allow the Giants to carry extra pitchers to help ease the early workload.

What is Logan Webb’s role in a shortened season?
-- @vinsonseed via Twitter

Webb was the leading candidate to become the Giants’ fifth starter following the injury to Tyler Beede, so I would expect him to have a meaningful role this season, either as a member of the rotation or as a bulk guy who can pitch multiple innings in relief. I don’t think the Giants will be wed to defined roles given the weirdness of the regular season, but they’ll still want to give as many opportunities as possible to younger Major Leaguers, like Webb, who will be a key part of the future but are advanced enough to help the club win games in 2020.

With the Minor League season canceled, how will the Giants get those players not on the 60-man player pool seasoned and further their development with game-like experience and have them nearby if the big league team needs reinforcements?
-- @dk9rfan via Twitter

Giants officials are advising those players to stay ready as best they can, though they recognize that players have varying levels of accessibility to training facilities, which will affect the type of work they’ll be able to conduct. The Giants still have a handful of open spots in their player pool, so they could add more prospects throughout the summer, but they won’t have the capacity to accommodate the bulk of players in their farm system. The hope is that Minor Leaguers will be able to recoup some of those lost reps during an expanded Fall League or instructional league, but all plans are subject to change with an ongoing pandemic.