SAN FRANCISCO–When the Giants were great, they had two. This year, they’ve had none.
Reliable left-handed relievers are hard to come by, and as the Giants collected three World Series trophies in five seasons, they were able to count on the likes of Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt in their bullpen.
The Lopez-Affeldt combination was as good as it gets, and regardless of how the Giants would have attempted to replace the duo, the left-handed relievers they chose wouldn’t have been able to live up to their predecessors. The problem for San Francisco in 2017 is that the two lefties the Giants have employed, Josh Osich and Steven Okert, haven’t come close.
It was an impossible task to step in for Affeldt, who retired after the 2015 season, and Lopez, who retired after the 2016 campaign, but Osich and Okert haven’t been able to maximize their potential this season.
With all of the struggles Osich and Okert have endured this year, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy likes having rookie Ty Blach in the bullpen. Though Blach spent the majority of the year in the Giants’ rotation, he’ll spend the final two weeks as a left-handed long reliever, even if he’ll be in the conversation for a starting job come Spring Training.
“It’s nice having a left-handed long guy and having a left-hander available,” Bochy said. “I can’t tell you what’s going to happen next year, but that’s an option with him. I’m sure he would like to be considered to be in the rotation which he’s going to be with the year that he’s had. That’s an option that is there for us.”
The loss of left-handed specialist Will Smith in Spring Training to Tommy John surgery crushed the Giants’ bullpen depth, as he was expected to handle a role similar to the one Lopez locked down during his tenure in San Francisco. Instead, Osich was forced into more high-leverage situations, and though he has impressive raw potential, he’s struggled with locating his pitches.
Bochy said Friday that Blach could earn a start during the final week of the regular season, but he won’t make that call for at least a week.
“Maybe, you talk about Arizona,” Bochy said. “I’ll see where we’re at at the very end. The last three days, he could get a start. But I do like him in the bullpen. He’s thrown great there against the Dodgers. The fourth inning he had some bad luck in that inning.”
The Colorado native has also pitched better in limited opportunities out of the bullpen in his career, as opponents are hitting just .189 against Blach the reliever, as opposed to .292 against Blach the starter.
With Blach heading to the bullpen, rookie Chris Stratton will finish the season in the Giants’ rotation. Bochy said he opted for Stratton over Blach in part because the Giants have already watched Blach start 24 times this season, but more so because Stratton has pitched so well of late.
“I think more is the fact that he’s (Stratton) throwing the ball so well,” Bochy said. “He’s just been on a great roll and we’re trying to keep him in there. Unfortunately he faces one hitter and we had to scratch him so he’s had a hard time staying on a regular routine. I will say he’s handled it great and he’ll be ready to go Sunday. I think he’s earned that, pitching every fifth or sixth day.”
Stratton will start against Arizona on Sunday after throwing one-third of an inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday. The 27-year-old recorded the first out of Monday’s game, but a 2:52 rain delay forced Bochy to turn to Blach when the action resumed.
Stratton said in the clubhouse on Friday that he wished he had an opportunity to face the Dodgers, but after he saw Los Angeles starter Kenta Maeda surrender four early runs following the delay, he’s happy he ended up coming out.
The other wildcard that could impact the Giants’ rotation over the final two weeks of the year is 13th year veteran Matt Cain, who may start one of San Francisco’s final games against the San Diego Padres.
“Yeah I’ll sit down with Matt,” Bochy said. “That’s a possibility.”
The longest-tenured Giants has two weeks left with the club, as San Francisco will decline his $18 million option for the 2018 season. With Cain departing, the Giants can and should honor his service to the organization with a start during the final weekend of the season.