Rule 5 pick Núñez to undergo TJ surgery

March 20th, 2021

Rule 5 Draft pick is expected to miss the entire 2021 season after choosing to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, Giants manager Gabe Kapler said Friday.

It’s a tough blow for Núñez, a 24-year-old reliever who hasn’t pitched above the Class A Advanced level, but was making a strong case for a spot in the Giants’ bullpen this spring.

“I feel a ton of empathy for him,” Kapler said prior to the Giants’ 6-2 loss to the Reds on Friday night at Scottsdale Stadium. “And frankly, it's pretty disappointing for us as the Giants as well. He was throwing the ball so well. We caught wind of the arm, the velocity, the slider and the attack mode that he was in. The competitiveness that he showed on the mound, his willingness to work fast. We really started to see him as a key piece of our bullpen this year.”

Núñez, who was plucked from the Mets in the Rule 5 Draft in December, impressed after hitting 97 mph with his fastball and flashing a wipeout slider this spring. He made four Cactus League appearances before showing a noticeable drop in velocity and shaky command against the Rockies on March 12. An MRI exam subsequently revealed a UCL sprain, prompting the Giants to place Núñez on the 60-day injured list on Thursday.

Núñez sought a second opinion before opting for elbow reconstruction surgery, which typically requires 12-18 months of rehabilitation for pitchers.

“I feel so sad,” said non-roster invitee Silvino Bracho, who missed the 2019 season while rehabbing from his own Tommy John surgery. “Núñez is a great guy, great kid. I’ve been in that situation before, and it’s hard to hear that news. I feel sad for him, but I know he’s going to come back stronger than he is right now.”

The Giants faced a similar situation with another former Rule 5 Draft pick, Julian Fernández, who underwent Tommy John surgery after hurting his elbow in March 2018. Fernández spent the entire season on the 60-day IL and was claimed off waivers by the Marlins the following offseason, though he ended up being returned to the Rockies in 2019.

Núñez needed to spend at least 90 days on the active roster to shed his Rule 5 status this year, so he will be subject to the same rules in 2022. Once he’s healthy, he’ll have to remain on the 26-man roster for the entire season or be offered back to the Mets.

Núñez appeared to have an inside track for a spot in the Giants’ bullpen because of his unique designation, but his injury could create an opening for another right-handed reliever like Bracho to make the Opening Day roster this spring. The Giants have a big group of non-roster invitees vying for relief jobs, but the 28-year-old Bracho has seemingly begun to separate himself by logging a 2.84 ERA with 11 strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings in Cactus League action.

“I try not to think about it too much because it’s something I can’t control right now,” Bracho said. “I just try to do my job every time they give me the opportunity. … I’ve been working on my fastball control because I know if I control my fastball very well on both sides of the plate, my changeup is going to have success.”

Jake McGee, Matt Wisler, José Álvarez and Jarlín García are likely the only locks for the Giants' bullpen at this point, though Tyler Rogers and Reyes Moronta could have a leg up over the competition as well. That leaves Wandy Peralta, Sam Selman, Caleb Baragar and non-roster invitees like Bracho, Nick Tropeano, Shun Yamaguchi, Jimmie Sherfy, Scott Kazmir, Dominic Leone and Zack Littell in the mix for the remaining slots.

“I think we’re getting a clearer and clearer picture,” Kapler said. “There’s a lot of good competition happening there, and I kind of like that. It’s kind of the one area where there’s quite a bit of competition. It’s certainly shaping up.”

Injury updates

• Left-hander played catch on Friday for the first time since undergoing an ablation procedure to help alleviate stiffness in his back on Tuesday. Wood hasn’t pitched since March 9, but the Giants aren’t ruling him out for Opening Day yet.

• Catcher could return to the starting lineup as early as Sunday against the Dodgers after being scratched from Tuesday’s game with right hip tightness.

, who’s been limited to designated hitter duties by plantar fasciitis this spring, could be ready to make his Cactus League debut at third base by the middle of next week.

• First baseman is scheduled to run the bases following Saturday’s off-day and could be ready to make his Cactus League debut by the end of next week. Belt is coming off right heel surgery and also missed the beginning of camp with a bout of mononucleosis.

• Outfield prospect is dealing with ankle soreness, which has kept him out of Cactus League action since March 9.

To the left, to the left

The Giants continued to stockpile left-handed pitchers on Friday, adding Phil Pfeifer on a Minor League deal with an invitation to Major League Spring Training. Pfeifer, 28, is a Vanderbilt product like current Giants Mike Yastrzemski, Tyler Beede, Curt Casali and Selman and also overlapped with Kapler and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi in the Dodgers organization.

Pfeifer gave up two runs on four hits over two innings before being released by the Braves this spring. He reached Triple-A Gwinnett in 2019, when he logged a 2.97 ERA over 30 appearances (18 starts) across three Minor League levels.

“One of the issues that Phil had when we were together with the Dodgers was he had difficulty throwing strikes,” Kapler said. “He really found that in 2019 with the Braves. He was still able to be kind of that funky delivery guy with good stuff that misses bats, but he was able to couple that with strike-throwing. ... We’re excited to have him.”

Worth noting

• A trio of lefties -- McGee, Álvarez and Baragar -- impressed in their relief outings against the Reds on Friday. McGee, who is viewed as the club’s presumptive closer, extended his scoreless streak to start the spring to five innings by striking out two in a clean fifth. Álvarez struck out the side in the eighth, while Baragar whiffed two more in a scoreless ninth.

• Moronta didn’t fare quite as well, throwing 27 pitches while recording only two outs in the sixth. Moronta struggled with his command and walked two of the five batters he faced, surrendering two runs on one hit in his third Cactus League appearance.

“Not Moronta’s crispest outing, but he was able to get through it and maintain his velocity,” Kapler said. “That was a good sign.”

• Shortstop Marco Luciano collected his first extra-base hit of the spring on Friday, driving a leadoff double to the opposite field in the ninth inning. Luciano came around to score on a sacrifice fly by catcher Patrick Bailey to give the Giants their first run since the first inning.

Up next

The Giants will enjoy an off-day on Saturday before heading to Camelback Ranch to face the Dodgers on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. PT. Left-hander Scott Kazmir, who is attempting to return to the Majors for the first time since 2016, will make his third appearance and first start of the spring.