The Giants, if not for a resurgence from their bullpen, might have been teetering on the brink of a lost season.
After an abysmal month of April, San Francisco’s bullpen not only turned a corner for the better in the month of May, but with Herculean efforts such as the nine-inning shutout in the Giants’ 5-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday at American Family Field, is proving to be the stabilizing force the underperforming ball club needed.
The Giants deployed lefty Scott Alexander as the opener for one inning, followed by Taylor Rogers for 1 1/3 innings, Jakob Junis for 2 1/3, Sean Manaea for 1 1/3, Tyler Rogers for one inning and John Brebbia for the remaining two innings. The group surrendered just five hits, two walks and struck out 13 Brewers hitters.
Giants manager Gabe Kapler spoke to reporters after the game about the bullpen’s effort, praising the job his relievers have done in recent weeks and explained how each and every one of his pitchers buying into the mission — both short-term and long-term — has fostered a supportive and winning environment.
“I really think the guys have been flexible,” Kapler said. “Today there wasn’t really much selling (the idea of bullpen games), these guys stepped up and were ready for the roles. That’s the way it works best, when players — pitchers — think about games as team events and not about what’s necessarily perfectly ideal for them, guys become selfless and they really start to root for each other.
“One guy feeds off the energy of the last guy’s performance and maybe feels additional accountability to also perform and I just think that’s what leads to a good team environment where people are doing the two things simultaneously that we always talk about — supporting each other and raising the bar for each other.”
It’s impossible to ignore the collective groans from the fanbase every time a reliever toes the rubber in the first inning of a bullpen game. Kapler and the Giants have used this approach as much if not more than any other team in MLB the past few seasons. The concept makes sense and the Giants have a decent track record in bullpen games, but it’s not something the team, admittedly, wants to be doing regularly.
Manaea, whom the Giants signed as a free agent this offseason in hoping the 31-year-old can re-establish himself as the inning-eating, top-of-the-rotation starter he once was, primarily has worked out of the bullpen this season. Not only has he bought into what the Giants are asking of him, but he’s having better success recently as a reliever, which provides the team hope that he can turn his season around and potentially re-establish himself as a productive starter.
For a veteran starting pitcher, especially one with Manaea’s pedigree, embracing a move to the bullpen isn’t easy. However, his sacrifice and team-first attitude has not gone unnoticed.
“We had Manaea starting for a while and he’s been asked to come out of the pen,” Michael Conforto told Laura Britt and Rich Aurilia on “Giants Postgame Live”. “From what I hear, that’s not always the easiest thing to do. We’ve had a few different guys open games. Guys have worn a lot of innings and you really gotta hand it to those guys, they’ve been as big a part of this as anything with the way we’ve been playing the last couple of weeks.”
The Giants’ bullpen has played a huge role in the team’s recent success. Since May 2, San Francisco’s relievers have combined for a 2.75 ERA, the second-best in all of baseball, in 75 1/3 innings pitched.
To put that into perspective, that same bullpen had a collective ERA of over 6.00 in the month of April.
“I’m really proud of the whole entire bullpen, it’s awesome to have one of those types of games (where) everybody picks each other up and throws a shutout,” Junis told reporters postgame. “That’s the goal every game and to do it on a bullpen day is pretty sweet.”
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The bullpen’s recent success is not due to any major adjustments by the pitchers or the coaching staff. In speaking with reporters after the game, Junis credited the group’s turnaround to guys finally settling in and finding their groove. The first month of the season was an outlier. For most, that was clear from the beginning.
Fast forward to today and a very talented bullpen finally is living up to the potential the coaching staff and front office saw for it in the offseason.
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