If it seems a fairly simple cause and effect — starting pitcher moves to the bullpen, throws harder and sharper in spurts and is more effective — it’s not the whole story to Shaun Anderson.
The 24-year-old rookie, a former closer at Florida before transitioning to the rotation in the Giants’ system, believes he found something in the two weeks in mid-August in which he was sidelined with a blister. He made a rehab start with Triple-A Sacramento and felt great. By the time he rejoined the Giants, his role had changed, and he was entering from the bullpen.
His role has changed again. With Will Smith remaining out with back inflammation that reportedly required an MRI, it was an improving Anderson called upon with the Giants desperate, another late-game lead slipping away, another four-run inning for the Pirates, this one in the eighth on Tuesday.
And it was Anderson who came through, getting four outs while striking out two and only surrendering a walk to get his first save since he was a Gator.
“We needed him. One-run ballgame, and what a nice job he did,” Bruce Bochy said after the Giants’ 5-4 victory over Pittsburgh at Oracle Park. “… He’s got the weapons and the mentality to do it. I think you’ll see him pitch later in the game now.”
For a third straight appearance, Anderson didn’t allow a run. For a fourth straight appearance, he struck out multiple batters. His fastball is suddenly topping out at 96 mph, a few ticks up from earlier this season as a starter, and his slider is tailing so much that he struck out and hit Kevin Kramer on the same pitch.
Shaun Anderson strikes out Kramer with a nasty slider that hits him pic.twitter.com/8MQu2mDWk8
— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) September 11, 2019
“Words can’t describe it. It’s a lot of fun,” Anderson said
Moving up (or further back?) in the bullpen is undoubtedly a promotion, but likely a strange one for a converted starter to process. He is not convinced his stuff is gaining effectiveness because he can go all-out for 15 pitches rather than conserve for 100.
“When I went down with my blister, I worked with pitching coaches for a while. We worked on delivery and we worked on just feeling stuff,” said Anderson, who got the blister taken care of in between Giants appearances on Aug. 7 and 24. “And even when I went down to that rehab in [Sacramento], I still had the same stuff that I have now out of the bullpen. It could be the bullpen, but the pitching coaches and I have worked on a lot of stuff. And I think that’s transitioned into just what my stuff has been lately.”
In that Aug. 20 start in Triple-A, he threw 3 1/3 innings of two-hit, four-strikeout ball. Perhaps it will go down as the last time he starts a game if this bullpen gig sticks. But that wouldn’t be his preference.
“Absolutely,” Anderson said, asked if returning to the rotation next season would be part of his ideal world. “I’d like to see that. But if they come to me like, ‘Hey, we want you here, that’s going to be your role,’ then absolutely, whatever they want. I want to win games just as much as the other person does.”
For a team that is missing Smith, Tony Watson (wrist), Reyes Moronta (torn labrum), Trevor Gott (elbow), Sam Dyson (trade), Mark Melancon (trade), Drew Pomeranz (trade) and Derek Holland (trade), it is a blessing to have Anderson emerging.
Even if he thinks he could be doing the same for a longer span.
“I think my stuff right now, I just feel so good with it. My mechanics, just the way my fastball is riding,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s so much a bullpen thing, rather than just a mechanical thing that I’ve been working on.”