Kyle Barraclough is searching. For his velocity, which he thinks is still hidden inside him. For a consistent slider that helped make him one of baseball’s elite relievers.
On Wednesday, he was searching just for a strike.
A diminished fastball, wayward control and the entire league passing on him has turned him into a Giants reclamation project. There are times he hums 95 mph again and hitters look befuddled when the slider drops from the sky. There are times when Barraclough throws and it looks as if he doesn’t know where it’s going. There are times, like Wednesday, when both happen within a five-minute span.
“That was the first time I punched out the side I think all year except one time in Double-A, which I don’t really count,” Barraclough told KNBR on Thursday, after an inning the night prior in which two walks and a bunt single (that he threw into right field) loaded the bases, only for him to strike out Melky Cabrera, Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds. “I used to do that eight or 10 times a year – without the two walks and errors and bunts. But it was really encouraging, the way the inning ended. It started a mess, but it ended well. It ended with some positives I can take now into my next outing.”
If the Giants have found something, it’s because Barraclough lost something. Barraclough burst onto the scene with Miami with a big fastball that neared triple-digits, putting up a 2.78 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 97 innings between 2015 and ’16.
His stuff was slipping — a fastball that averaged 95.6 in 2016 dropped to 94.8 in 2017, 93.6 last season and 93.4 this year. But the now 29-year-old was still attractive enough that he became one of the pieces Washington wanted to build its bullpen around. This season, Barraclough said, has been his most frustrating, a 6.66 ERA with the Nationals getting him demoted to the minors and then DFA’d altogether.
The Giants, too, put him on waivers after claiming him, letting the rest of the league get a crack at him, and no one bit. He reported to Triple-A Sacramento, showed tempting if unrefined stuff, and September arrived and so did Barraclough, a Santa Clara native whose mother “blew my eardrum out when she found out” he’d be in the Giants organization.
A year that has been more downs than ups has seen that continue with the Giants, with whom he’s thrown 3 2/3 innings and allowed two earned runs, but walked five and struck out seven. The walks do not bother him as much as they bother Bruce Bochy; Barraclough, even at his peak, would walk a good chunk of hitters.
“I’ve had some command issues, but some of it is me not giving in,” he said. “I’d rather walk a guy than throw a fastball right down the middle.”
In the good days, though, he could erase a leadoff walk with a back-breaking slider and a blink-and-you-missed-it fastball. He traces his velocity loss not to an arm that has pitched in 265 major league games but to a 2017 back injury, after which he couldn’t hit the gym like he used to. This offseason, he sought a performance academy in Jupiter, Fla., and “finally got some individualized training tailored to me.”
He believes with another offseason where he knows how to train, some of his stuff will return. He was pleased he hit 95 mph Wednesday.
“I know it’s in there. This whole season’s obviously been a big learning experience. Take all those lessons into the offseason with last offseason’s training in mind and build on that,” Barraclough said. “Try to regain some of that and get it back up. I don’t know if I’ll ever be throwing 97-99 again, but 94-96, 95-97, that’s a big difference between 92-94, 91-93.”
The Giants have made the bullpen a living thing, a fluid commodity in which virtually no spot is guaranteed next season. Will Smith will be a free agent and so, likely, will Tony Watson. They have tried to stockpile options because some work out and some don’t.
Barraclough believes he’ll be in the former category.
“In the last three outings, it’s felt like it’s come out right,” said Barraclough, who will enter his second year of arbitration this offseason. “Results might not always be there, but it’s good when you can walk off the mound and build off something and not still be searching the next day for something that you’ve been looking for for a while.
“It’s kind of how it’s been all season. It seems like I find something and then two days later it’s gone. And I’m searching for it again.”