Webb's slider in sync ahead of Opening Day  

Giants right-hander excited about pitch after 5-plus strong IP in his spring finale

March 26th, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- looked sharp in his final tune-up before Opening Day, firing five-plus innings of one-run ball in the Giants’ 7-4 win over the Mariners in Saturday afternoon’s Cactus League finale at Scottsdale Stadium.

Webb opened his outing with five scoreless innings, but he was removed after yielding a leadoff double to Kole Calhoun and a single to Brian O’Keefe to start the sixth. Calhoun ended up scoring the Mariners’ first run on Mike Ford’s single off right-hander , leaving Webb’s spring ERA at 4.50 over five starts.

“I thought it went better than my other outings,” said Webb, who scattered eight hits while walking three and striking out six. “The walks kind of pissed me off, but other than that, I thought the sequencing was better. I thought everything felt good. I had some long innings. I don’t know if I’ve had a clean inning all spring, so hopefully I’ll save them for the season.”

Webb’s next assignment will be matching up against Yankees ace Gerrit Cole in the regular-season opener on Thursday in the Bronx. It will mark the 26-year-old’s second consecutive Opening Day start for San Francisco, underscoring the stature he holds on a pitching staff that’s composed primarily of veterans.

“I think he has the respect of his teammates,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said on Friday. “They all look to him as somebody who will lead us on and off the field. I think he can take another step in that direction this year.” 

Despite setting personal bests in games started (32), innings pitched (192 1/3), ERA (2.90) and wins (15) in 2022, Webb has expressed some dissatisfaction with last year’s results and will be aiming to raise the bar for himself this season.

A major focus for him this spring was regaining his feel for his slider, which held opposing batters to a .202 average and induced 60 strikeouts in ‘22. That was a slight dip from the .156 opponents’ batting average and 88 strikeouts he recorded with the pitch in ‘21. 

Webb said he didn’t necessarily tweak anything with his slider grip, but he spent time talking with several teammates, including lefty reliever Taylor Rogers, about their thought processes to help him perfect the pitch.

“It feels 100 times better,” Webb said. “I’m very excited to see that. When I first got to spring, it was kind of the same thing. For some reason, I just kind of lost it for a little bit. I’ve been working on it in ‘pens and throwing them a bunch in games. It’s been a lot better.”

Pérez makes team

Manager Gabe Kapler told reporters that veteran will make the Opening Day roster, adding more clarity to the catching competition, which had been one of the final questions heading into the final week of Spring Training.

Pérez, 34, had an opt-out clause in his Minor League contract that was triggered on Saturday, so the Giants had to add him to the 40-man roster within 48 hours or grant him his release.

“He’s done a great job,” Zaidi said. “The pitchers love him. Really the evaluation has been from a health standpoint. How he’s moving around, how his shoulder feels, how his lower body feels because he’s had some of those issues, and how much of the catching load we think he can handle. He’s felt really good, and he’s ready to catch more, so that part of the evaluation has been very positive.”

The Giants are expected to carry three catchers, with Joey Bart and Rule 5 Draft pick Blake Sabol the most likely candidates to round out the group. Sabol will probably see most of his time in the outfield early in the season due to injuries to Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater, and Sabol could get the starting nod in left field against Cole on Thursday.

Sabol made only his fourth Cactus League start at the position, but he looked comfortable there, chasing down Calhoun’s drive into the left-center-field gap and laying out to rob Julio Rodríguez of a hit in the second inning.

“I think he’s acquitted himself pretty well out there,” Zaidi said. “Him being comfortable out there is really part of what gives us the ability to come out of the gate in that three-catcher configuration, but when Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater get back, maybe Blake’s got to fit more firmly in the catching mix. 

“For us to get through the full season with Blake on the roster, he’s going to be able to prove himself to be a viable Major League catcher. I think we’ve seen a lot of progress with that.”