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Bergen anticipating Giants' series with Jays

Lefty reliever spent first four pro seasons in Toronto's farm system, but never played with big league team
@mi_guardado
April 22, 2019

Tuesday will mark an emotional return to Toronto for outfielder Kevin Pillar, who is set to face the Blue Jays for the first time since being traded to the Giants three weeks ago. The trip will also hold weight for rookie left-hander Travis Bergen, but in a different way. "I

Tuesday will mark an emotional return to Toronto for outfielder Kevin Pillar, who is set to face the Blue Jays for the first time since being traded to the Giants three weeks ago. The trip will also hold weight for rookie left-hander Travis Bergen, but in a different way.

"I wouldn’t even call it a return," Bergen said.

A seventh-round Draft pick of the Blue Jays in 2015, Bergen never got the chance to visit Rogers Centre with his former organization. He will instead play there for the first time with the Giants, who plucked him from Toronto in December’s Rule 5 Draft and created a path for him to make their Opening Day roster as a third lefty reliever behind Will Smith and Tony Watson.

“It’s going to be pretty cool,” Bergen said. “I guess I’d envisioned myself playing in the big leagues with them when I was drafted. The opportunity that I got here has been something that I never would have dreamed of.”

Bergen, 25, spent his first four professional seasons in the Blue Jays’ farm system, but his development was slowed by arm injuries early in his career. He finally enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2018, posting a 0.95 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 15 walks over 56 2/3 innings between Class A Advanced Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire.

Bergen had hoped those dominant results would be enough to earn him a spot on the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster over the offseason, but Toronto opted to omit him, leaving him exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. Bergen was one of two players the Giants picked up during the Rule 5 Draft, as they also selected outfielder Drew Ferguson from the Astros with their second pick.

Bergen and Ferguson were brought into big league camp this spring with a chance to make the Giants’ roster, but only Bergen wound up sticking. Though San Francisco had a deep pool of relievers competing for limited openings in its bullpen, Bergen secured a job by using his impressive fastball-curveball combination to log a 1.69 ERA with 13 strikeouts over 10 2/3 innings in nine exhibition appearances.

“You look at what he had to go through this spring,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “There’s some pressure on these guys. A Rule 5 kid, he knows that he’s got to make the club or he goes back to the Minor Leagues. He performed really well. I think that says a lot about his makeup and how he can handle pressure.”

Despite not having pitched above Double-A, Bergen continued to perform well for the Giants once the regular season began, posting a 1.69 ERA over the first seven appearances of his career. He was the last reliever standing in the Giants’ 3-2 win over the Rockies in 18 innings on April 12, and he earned the win after striking out five over two scoreless innings.

Bergen credited many of the Giants’ veteran relievers for helping him make the adjustment to the Majors, especially Mark Melancon, who has shown him how he uses data to develop game plans against hitters.

“I’m trying to learn from everybody that’s here,” Bergen said. “Everybody in the bullpen especially has been welcoming and they’re pretty good guys to try to mirror. I’m learning everything that goes into it from the film, analytic standpoint and then the actual pitching side of things. I’m just trying to do what got me here and then trying to piece together a little bit from everybody that’s had the career that I hope to have.”

Bergen hit his first major speed bump when he allowed four runs over one inning in two games against the Nationals last week, which caused his ERA to spike to 7.11, but that figure belies the overall strength of his body of work with the Giants so far.

“What a great job he’s done,” Bochy said. “He had that hiccup in Washington, and we had to pitch him the next day. But now I think he’s got a chance to catch his breath and rest up and everything. Like any reliever, they’re going to have their moments, and what’s important is how they deal with it. That’s what we’ll see now.”

Bergen did not pitch over the weekend in Pittsburgh, so his next appearance could come against the Blue Jays, giving him an opportunity to rebound against the organization that let him go. He said he is looking forward to seeing some of his former teammates, including Danny Jansen and Ryan Borucki, as well as some of Toronto's trainers and strength coaches who helped him come back from the injuries he battled as a Minor Leaguer.

Bergen also planned to use Monday’s off-day to go sightseeing in Toronto with his sister, who lives in Buffalo, N.Y., and finally get to know the city that he identified with for much of his career.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Bergen said. “It will be fun.”

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