SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The start of an unorthodox spring season in what will be an unorthodox year will be, well, unorthodox.
It won’t be Jeff Samardzija or Johnny Cueto or Kevin Gausman or Drew Smyly getting the ball first Saturday, when the spring calendar opens by hosting the Dodgers at Scottsdale Stadium. No, it will be Dereck Rodriguez who ushers in 2020 Giants baseball, albeit the exhibition variety.
“I wouldn’t read anything into that,” Gabe Kapler said Wednesday, as Rodriguez will go two innings before a string of Giants pitchers will get a frame.
Rodriguez, who was frustrated by the roller-coaster he rode last season between Triple-A Sacramento and San Francisco, spent the offseason — like he always does — in Puerto Rico Winter League and is ostensibly a candidate for the fifth rotation spot, but almost surely will begin the season either in the bullpen or back with the River Cats.
In their player meetings, the Giants have been warning option-able players that those options will be exercised. From Rodriguez, Kapler said, the Giants want flexibility, a willingness to pitch in whatever role that’s required of him. Rodriguez will follow that diktat, but it’s easier said than done. Especially for pitchers who crave routine, the lack of one can irritate.
Kapler said he will be “very empathetic” to deal with issues that arise, though the Giants hope Rodriguez will pitch well enough that they don’t become issues. Rodriguez burst onto the scene in 2018 then struggled mightily last season. According to Fangraphs, the 27-year-old’s average fastball was nearly a full mile per hour slower last season than 2018, a point of focus early on in camp.
“I don’t think he needs motivation,” Kapler said of Rodriguez, who finished with a 5.64 ERA last season. “My sense is that he’s pretty self-critical. He’s tough on himself. I think some of the up and down has been tough for him.”
With the caveat that “it’s not an indication of where guys are going to hit in the lineup,” Kapler said he had penciled in Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria and Buster Posey to start Saturday.
Crawford, though, has missed the two past workouts with flu-like symptoms.
Steven Duggar was spotted taking drills in right field, while Joey Rickard shagged fly balls in center field.
The curious sight, Kapler said, was nothing more than an example of the Giants wanting each outfielder to be ready at each spot. If Billy Hamilton is playing center, perhaps Duggar will play right, and so they want him familiar.
Farhan Zaidi told reporters Tuesday that he would like to see Heliot Ramos a bit in major league camp, the Giants perhaps giving the top center field prospect a look against top competition.
Kapler has seen Ramos briefly, only in minicamps farm director Kyle Haines has put together, but “we know he’s a great talent. His family, his pedigree, and I’ve heard about his talent and I saw a little bit of it in batting practice.”