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Why this camp will be so different for two emerging Giants relievers

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — One downside of pitching in the major leagues is the, well, pitching.

There’s a lot of it. One hundred sixty-two games worth. Relentless, seemingly never-ending pitching that does end eventually, leaving arms limp and beaten and drained.

After a combined 13 seasons in the minor leagues, Tyler Rogers and Sam Coonrod began establishing themselves as major league relievers last season, checking off so many “firsts” along the way in revelatory debuts. Among the uncharted territory was pitching deep into September; their minor league seasons never stretched that long.

“I was so tired at the end,” Rogers told KNBR after the Giants’ first pitcher and catcher workout Wednesday at Scottsdale Stadium.

“I was like, ‘Wow. I’ve never felt this way before,” said Coonrod, who had been warned his arm would be woozy in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, but he wasn’t prepared for this.

Rogers asked his twin brother, the Twins’ Taylor, how best to proceed with a flagging wing after a season in which he threw 79 2/3 innings, up from 67 2/3 in 2018. Coonrod actually spent less time off than usual in his offseason because “I don’t plan on feeling like that again,” and so he began his strength training.

It was a different season. Coonrod debuted in late May and stuck in the bullpen, his mid-90s fastball and slower breaking ball regularly confounding opponents en route to a 3.58 ERA. Rogers debuted in late August and made an immediate impression, the submariner entering 17 games and pitching to a 1.02 ERA.

It was a different offseason. And now it’s a different camp, both entering a wide-open bullpen field with only Tony Watson and Trevor Gott closer to grabbing an Opening Day job.

For the 29-year-old Rogers, this is not just the first major league camp he’s entered with expectations, but also the very first major league camp he’s attended. For too long he was bypassed, the club not convinced enough his unorthodox delivery could play at the highest level.

“Way different,” said the down-to-earth Rogers. “I’m just going to try and be my same old boring self and see what happens.”

Coonrod, too, shrugged off goodwill he earned last season, saying he’s entering this camp like the past ones he’s attended: There are jobs to win, and he wants one.

The biggest difference for the 27-year-old is he now has spent prolonged time with the guys who are earmarked for San Francisco. No longer does he have to introduce himself around the clubhouse to players he’s watched on TV.

“It just feels like I actually know the guys that are for sure going to make it,” Coonrod said, looking around the clubhouse. “… Buster [Posey] and Pablo [Sandoval]. It’s nice to be able to understand things a little better.”

For Coonrod, the other different part of this year’s camp is his arsenal: He’s been working on a cutter with the new pitching minds, whom he praised as knowing “way more than me.” He’s happy with the progress so far, but needs work on getting consistency with the pitch.

The jostling for new pitches and roster spots has begun, the two joining an ocean-deep field that includes a couple dozen hard-throwing, inexperienced arms and more-established options like Jerry Blevins and Trevor Cahill. Last season’s success guarantees Rogers and Coonrod a long look, even if both were quick to point out what has stayed the same: They have more to prove.

“Things have changed in my career, but that part has stayed the same,” Rogers said.


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