LOS ANGELES — A rare perk of empty ballparks is that the fury oftentimes now has a soundtrack. No longer are the players and coaches mimes from afar, especially when the piped-in crowd noise isn’t fully cranked up.
Dodger Stadium was quiet as Sam Selman went to work against Joc Pederson during Friday’s sixth inning, getting a generous call on an outside fastball for strike two that nicely set up a softer slider that Pederson swung through. Without fans, curses instead filled the park as Pederson first barked at the home-plate umpire — “What the hell were you thinking,” Selman said he heard — before stalking his way back to the dugout.
“That’s the beauty of not playing with fans. You’re a lot closer to the batter than you think,” Selman said over Zoom this weekend. “The interactions, it’s very close. I had that happen with Daniel Murphy in Colorado, he actually said something, too. You can just hear it so well. It’s a little different thing, but it’s fun, pitcher-vs.-hitter mentality. I mean, that’s what makes pitching fun.”
What makes it more fun is when Selman is inspiring that anger and winning those battles. So this has been a fun start for the 29-year-old lefty trying to prove he’s a major leaguer.
Two offseasons ago, Selman was a minor league free agent taking real-estate interviews, preparing a Plan B after seven seasons with Kansas City never led to his chance. He rescued his career by enrolling at Driveline, a sort of data-driven pitching academy, and was brought in by the Giants, who also had brought in now coordinator of pitching sciences Matt Daniels from Driveline. Selman dominated with Triple-A Sacramento last year and appeared in his first 10 games with San Francisco.
This offseason was different, though he again worked with Daniels and, by fortuitous chance, pitching coach Andrew Bailey. Selman was living in Newport Beach with pals Scott Alexander (himself emerging with the Dodgers) and Kyle Zimmer (of the Royals). Bailey, as he soon found out, was living in Laguna Beach. They met up at a Chipotle in late January, and Selman threw a couple of bullpen sessions with Bailey’s eyes on him before spring training 1.0 began.
“He kind of helped me work on my mechanics and clean things up and focus on some things that would help especially my fastball,” said Selman, whose low-90s fastball is up a bit from last year. “Big thing the last couple of years has been: I throw a lot of sliders, so I don’t want my fastball to kind of blend in to my slider where it cuts a little bit.”
He’s a two-pitch pitcher who embraces the lack of diversity, warming up to the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Slide.” In a Giants bullpen that will be a meritocracy, Selman is emerging as an option for higher-leverage situations and perhaps even for early innings; Selman, who threw two innings and 35 pitches Friday, came up as a starter and can work multiple innings on a team that is without Drew Smyly and Jeff Samardzija.
Gabe Kapler praised Selman’s improving location, saying he’s attacking hitters better than he did in Scottsdale, when he got an early demotion to minor league camp. Selman agreed, saying he’s being less fine than he once was. No longer is he dividing his target into quarters in his mind.
“I found that breaking up the plate into thirds or even halves, trying to hit a more general area has been pretty successful with me,” said Selman, who has walked one in five innings.
The Giants are loaded with lefties, but through the small sample size, Selman, who has allowed one run (1.80 ERA) and struck out nine, has begun making a case for more important frames.
Sometimes, though, your opponents make your arguments for you.
“He wasn’t too pleased,” Selman said of Pederson.
Logan Webb is the Giants’ starter on Monday in Houston.
Jandel Gustave is a free agent. The reliever elected free agency after clearing waivers and being outrighted to Sacramento.