The Giants don’t have a new closer, says the closest thing the Giants have to a new closer.
“I would say that it has to be earned, and I don’t think I’ve necessarily earned it yet,” Sam Coonrod said on a Zoom call before Tuesday’s opener at Coors Field. “I haven’t been doing it long enough.”
At the same time, he hopes he will get more chances to grab a job that is not his.
“It’s always been a dream to be a closer,” Coonrod said, “I can’t lie.”
The 27-year-old recorded the first save of his career Sunday, when he retired the heart of the Diamondbacks’ lineup 1-2-3. In the wake of Trevor Gott’s three-game meltdown, the Giants’ bullpen had been thin on back-end righties, which led to Farhan Zaidi & Co. looking around for help. They did not settle on any, in part because of the help that just came off the injured list.
Coonrod always has had an electric fastball, but not like the one he suddenly has after missing nearly four weeks with a lat strain. Last year his fastball averaged 96.5 mph. This year, according to Baseball Savant, his average 98.8-mph four-seamer is the fastest in baseball, just ahead of the Dodgers’ Dustin May.
Fresh off the injured list, he was hitting 101 mph and has been untouchable. He’s been perfect in 3 2/3 innings with three strikeouts and a fastball that even he hasn’t seen before.
“That’s the hardest I believe I’ve ever thrown,” Coonrod said. “I lift weights in the offseason pretty consistently, so that’s what my goal is to always be able to throw harder, it’s always come [back] the following year with better stuff than I had in the past. I was just happy that I was able to put it together.”
Coonrod credited rest for the uptick in velocity and thanked Giants trainers for their work with him. He has trusted there is more in his arm, and the second-year Giant is seeing it emerge.
“I was always confident that I could be better than what I had been while I was here,” said Coonrod, who pitched to a 3.58 ERA in 33 games last year. “I was just happy to be able to contribute.”
He said he has changed the grip on his slider and has been happy with the results, and he’s been moving further back in the Giants’ bullpen. Kapler is resistant to naming a closer because he prefers going on matchups rather than innings — if righties are due up in the eighth and lefties in the ninth, Coonrod would take the eighth and Tony Watson the ninth.
Still, the manager acknowledged that he thinks “the ninth inning has an added level of stress that the other innings don’t.”
It was a stress level Coonrod could handle. His velocity was slightly down — he maxed out at a pitiful 99.1 mph while pitching on a back-to-back — but Kapler did not have to warn him he would get the ninth and saw no signs of nerves.
“Coonrod was ready for anything,” Kapler said of a pitcher who will want the chance again.