Gabe Kapler never appointed Trevor Gott his official closer, but over the first few weeks of the regular season, it became clear that the hard-throwing right-hander had emerged as the Giants manager’s preferred option to pitch the ninth inning.
That’s no longer the case.
Gott blew his third consecutive ninth-inning lead on Monday night, surrendering a walk-off home run to Angels second baseman Tommy La Stella that sealed a stunning 7-6 defeat for the Giants at Angel Stadium.
Mike Yastrzemski, who gave the Giants a 6-5 lead with a two-run double in the sixth, could only watch in disbelief as La Stella’s shot hit off the right-field wall, a few feet above the yellow home-run boundary line. He couldn’t contain his frustration, letting out an audible curse that resonated in the empty ballpark.
Gott, who logged a 1.50 ERA over his first six appearances, has now allowed 11 runs, including five homers, while recording four outs over his last three outings.
“Obviously, Trevor is having a really rough time,” Kapler said. “Nobody feels worse about this than he does. That’s the nuts and bolts of it.”
Gott also yielded a game-tying grand slam to Stephen Piscotty on Friday and a go-ahead, three-run shot to Mark Canha on Saturday, triggering a painful three-game sweep at the hands of the A’s over the weekend at Oracle Park. After those two stumbles, Kapler expressed full confidence that Gott would rebound and prove that he could continue to be trusted in high-leverage situations.
But Kapler acknowledged that he would need to explore other closer options after Monday’s collapse, which extended the Giants’ losing streak to a season-high five games.
“In the long term, my confidence level in Trevor Gott has not changed,” Kapler said. “In the short term, we may need to look for a softer landing spot for him and evaluate what other options we have in the high-leverage moments. From a long-term perspective, I have a lot of confidence in Trevor. Short term, I think we’re going to need to figure out how to get his confidence back.”
Gott’s struggles have been part of a larger bullpen issue for the Giants, who almost completely turned over their relief corps after trading away Mark Melancon, Sam Dyson, Drew Pomeranz and Ray Black at last year’s Trade Deadline and losing All-Star closer Will Smith to free agency over the offseason. Reyes Moronta, another key cog in the bullpen, remains on the injured list as he continues to work his way back from right shoulder surgery.
The Giants opened the year with only one established veteran in their bullpen, left-hander Tony Watson, who pitched a scoreless eighth on Monday. The rest of the group is composed of promising but inexperienced arms, many of whom are former Minor League starters who are adjusting to pitching out of the bullpen in the Majors for the first time.
The Giants are hoping to identify pieces for the future, but that process has come with inevitable growing pains, as evidenced by their recent string of bullpen meltdowns. San Francisco’s relievers, who entered Monday with a 6.52 ERA, the second-worst mark in the Majors, have surrendered 29 runs over 20 2/3 innings over the club’s five-game skid.
“Nobody wants to be where we are, but it is what it is,” Watson said during a pregame Zoom call on Monday. “It’s how we’ve come out. But we’ve got to keep going out. Sure, we’ve got some guys in new situations, but there’s no excuses. We’ve got to go out there and keep attacking and executing pitches. The bottom line is just get outs and get our team back in the dugout.”
It’s unclear who Kapler will turn to now that Gott is likely to receive some form of a mental break, though Watson would be a reasonable choice to assume ninth-inning duties in the near future. The 35-year-old recorded 30 saves during his tenure with the Pirates and has shown that he can handle both left- and right-handed hitters, though the Giants have been cautious with him after he dealt with a shoulder issue during Spring Training.
Submariner Tyler Rogers could also be a candidate due to his ability to consistently induce ground balls and generate weak contact, though he has endured a couple of missteps this year as well.
“Honestly, I’m glad I don't have to make those decisions,” said first baseman Brandon Belt, who homered for the second consecutive game. “Gotter is a really good pitcher. I have all the faith in the world in him, and I know my teammates do as well. It’s a tough go at it right now, and really, it seems like it’s been going for a long time, but it’s really just been three games. And three games doesn’t really define your season. I really do have all the faith in the world that he can figure something out and get back out there and be his dominant self again.”