SAN FRANCISCO -- It hasn’t taken left-hander Jake McGee long to make a strong impression on his new Giants teammates.
The Giants’ unofficial closer has been spotless in his first six regular-season appearances, tossing 5 1/3 hitless innings while racking up four saves, the second-most in the Majors behind the Padres’ Mark Melancon.
“He’s been outstanding,” outfielder Alex Dickerson said Saturday. “Every bit as advertised. I’ve been on the other side of some of those at-bats. He’s not comfortable to face. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
McGee, 34, logged a 2.66 ERA over 20 1/3 innings with the Dodgers in 2020 and parlayed that success into a two-year, $5 million deal with the Giants in February. After throwing his fastball 96.4 percent of the time last year, McGee has relied on a similar formula in San Francisco, where 65 of the first 72 pitches he’s thrown this year have been fastballs.
What makes McGee’s heater so effective against both lefties and righties?
“It’s a very unique pitch,” Dickerson said. “You don’t really see it very often. It’s really hard to adjust. It’s something you have to adjust mid-at-bat, especially if you haven’t seen him before. I think you’re seeing that with him, where the low pitches find a way in the zone. They look down and then they end up being knee-high. And then the high one ends up being over their head and they end up swinging. He’s just a nightmare to face, to be honest.”
After spending the first six years of his career with the Rays, McGee was traded to the Rockies, who signed him to a three-year, $27 million contract following the 2017 season. Still, McGee ended up posting a 5.54 ERA over the final two seasons of his tenure in Colorado, leading to his release in July 2020.
He subsequently caught on with the Dodgers, who introduced him to CleanFuego, a training tool that looks like a puck and gives pitchers instant spin feedback.
“It got my hand higher, and I was behind the ball more,” McGee said. “They said just pitch up in the zone a lot more, then showed me the numbers if I pitch higher in the zone. Even if it’s middle-high, my numbers [against hitters] go way down. That just gave me confidence knowing that everything was moving right, and if I stay up in the zone with my fastball, I’ll have success.”
Despite emerging as a key reliever for the World Series champion Dodgers last year, McGee’s free agency ended up stretching deep into the offseason. He eventually fielded multiple offers from multiple teams, but he said he was drawn to the Giants due to his desire to work with the club’s data-driven coaching staff.
"It was a pretty slow free agency," McGee said. "It was a little different. It felt like everyone kind of fell in line -- once a team was after one guy, it seemed like every team was calling. It happened for me pretty late, but I had quite a few teams calling all at the same time. I had multiple offers from different teams, but the Giants were really appealing to me with the younger staff and analytics-wise they're [at the] forefront, and I get everything I need."
Mike Yastrzemski, who has endured a slow start to the season, received a scheduled day off on Monday. With left-hander Wade Miley on the mound for the Reds, the Giants opted to start Austin Slater in right field in place of Yastrzemski, who entered Monday batting .125 (4-for-32) with one home run and 14 strikeouts over his first nine games.
“We just felt like it was the right time to give him a day off,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He made some adjustments in-game yesterday. His leg-lift was a little bit more controlled and slightly higher. He smoked that double down the right-field line. That was obviously encouraging. We had this game here marked for a potential off day for Yaz, knowing that we have a long stretch of games coming up once we get on the road and after this off-day [on Thursday].”
Slater missed the last two games after fouling a ball off his foot, but he slotted into the leadoff spot against Miley on Monday night.
Kapler said he’s optimistic that the Giants’ traveling party will eventually reach the 85% vaccination rate that will allow the club to ease certain health and safety protocols that were put in place to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel that that’s coming,” Kapler said. “I don’t have an exact date for you, but I can tell you that we’re definitely trending in that right direction and we’re definitely taking steps every day to move to a space where we’re 85%-plus of our traveling party is vaccinated, so the group gets to loosen up restrictions just a bit. Obviously, we’re still being cognizant of the protocols that are in place, but I think everybody’s looking forward to getting to that spot and loosening up just a bit.”