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Closer or not, Watson ready to lead Giants 'pen

@mi_guardado
February 16, 2020

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants have a vacancy at closer after losing All-Star left-hander Will Smith to the Braves, but manager Gabe Kapler isn’t committed to opening the season with a fixed replacement. “I think if somebody grabs hold of that position and makes it unequivocally clear that this person

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants have a vacancy at closer after losing All-Star left-hander Will Smith to the Braves, but manager Gabe Kapler isn’t committed to opening the season with a fixed replacement.

“I think if somebody grabs hold of that position and makes it unequivocally clear that this person is the right player for the role, sure,” Kapler said. “I think there’s some value in naming a closer. We have to be flexible enough to say, ‘Right now we don’t have to name somebody the closer.’ But I think that decision is going to be made for us as we go through camp.”

Left-hander Tony Watson is one of the few relievers in camp with Major League closing experience, as he accrued 30 saves during his tenure with the Pirates. The 34-year-old veteran would be a logical choice to ascend to the ninth-inning role after serving as Smith’s setup man last season, though the Giants could also audition upstarts like Trevor Gott, Shaun Anderson and Jandel Gustave.

Regardless of where he’s asked to pitch, Watson said he’s eager to take on more of a leadership role in the bullpen and serve as a resource for the younger, more inexperienced relievers on the staff.

“I kind of look at myself of having that [closer] mentality, not only on the field, but off the field,” Watson said. “Being the leader of the group and helping out as much as I can. We’ll see how it all shakes out, but yeah, that’d be great.”

Positional versatility is a major buzzword for the Giants this spring, and the same concept is being extended to the pitchers in camp. Anderson, Andrew Suárez, Dereck Rodríguez and non-roster invitee Trevor Cahill are entering Spring Training as starters, but they have the flexibility to pitch out of the bullpen as well. With only the fifth spot seemingly up for grabs in the rotation, they could have an easier path to the Opening Day roster as multi-inning relievers or swingmen.

With few established back-end arms at his disposal this spring, Kapler said he wants his pitchers to embrace being deployed outside of the delineated roles that have governed bullpens in the past.

"I think that the game is changing dramatically,” Kapler said. “Relievers know that there are fewer of those surefire, ‘You're the seventh, eighth and ninth guy’ throughout baseball. Those are actually more rare now than anything else. I do think players in general like to know their role. In a perfect world, we can lay that out for them. We don't have relievers in our ‘pen that are married to any role, and I think that's fun and unique about our camp. We don't have one reliever that has to pitch in any particular role.”

Maria Guardado covers the Giants for MLB.com. She previously covered the Angels from 2017-18. Follow her on Twitter.