Listen Live Now:

The finds and huge leaps that have turned Giants’ bullpen into a weapon

Cody Glenn-USA TODAY Sports

Aug. 16’s best reliever for the Giants was a catcher.

Tyler Heineman pitched a one-hit, no-run ninth inning. The four to emerge from the Giants bullpen preceding him ate up 4 2/3 innings and watched the A’s score 12 runs in a blowout. Through Aug. 16 and 23 games, the Giants were 8-15 and their bullpen posted a 6.52 ERA, the second worst in baseball. Trevor Gott had the worst WAR in baseball, Tyler Rogers’ ERA was 9.00 and Jarlin Garcia had thrown three total innings.

The Giants have improved in every area as the season has progressed, from an offense that has posted the fourth most runs in the league (235) to a rotation that has solidified to a defense that once looked like a glaring weakness. But it is hard to find a unit that has gone from among the worst to among the best faster.

“We’ve had some guys really emerge as weapons that we weren’t sure of,” Gabe Kapler said over Zoom earlier this week. “[Sam] Selman comes to mind as a guy who could pitch high-leverage innings for us now. We didn’t know he was going to be capable of doing that at the beginning of the season. Jarlin, I think we kind of expected this type of performance from. Rogers has been so cool under pressure. We’re pleased with the state of things right now.”

Since that 15-3 destruction by Oakland, the Giants’ 2.32 bullpen ERA is the second best in baseball. The unit has allowed six home runs in 81 1/3 innings (third best). Opponents are batting .195 against Giants relievers (best). Their 1.08 WHIP is second only to the A’s.

That 6.52 season ERA is whittled down to a more manageable 4.63, ranking 20th in MLB. Not coincidentally, in the span the Giants are 15-7, rising up into the playoff picture through bullpens discoveries and improvements, learning roles along the way.

The Giants’ pen has stranded 81.3 percent of runners since that turning point, thanks in good part to Caleb Baragar, who has become Kapler’s fire extinguisher in putting out potential dangers in the fifth and sixth innings. Since Aug. 16, the rookie lefty has not allowed a run in 9 2/3 innings while surrendering just five hits and a walk. Because of his effectiveness and the timing of his role — as well as a Giants offense that gets better the deeper into games — his five wins are the best on the team and tied for the seventh most in baseball.

On Sunday, Baragar, who was a surprise to even be in the pool much less the Opening Day roster, pointed to his Aug. 12 blowup against the Astros — two outs recorded, four runs let up — as his turning point. He hasn’t given up a run since.

“I think Houston was kind of a wake-up call for me a little bit,” said the 26-year-old over Zoom. “I was kind of worried about, How did I get here so quick? Kind of a little panicky about, Am I really supposed to be here? Not really trusting myself as much.

“I went back and watched the Houston game and I realized that I was one strike away from every single hitter that I faced that day, except for I think [Kyle] Tucker … I think my mentality from then on has changed.”

He now trusts that if he executes his pitches, his stuff will be good enough to get major league hitters out.

As does Sam Selman, who also has not been touched since that A’s rout. Another lefty find — Selman was nearly out of baseball and looking at real-estate jobs before the Giants called two offseasons ago — the 29-year-old has let up just one hit and four walks in his last 6 2/3 innings. For his season, his ERA is at 1.80 and has struck out 18 in 15 innings. When Kapler needs a clean inning or finds himself in a situation where a strikeout is needed, Selman and his elite slider is often the choice.

Garcia has not been a find — he was a solid pitcher with Miami before a strange DFA this offseason — but if there were an All-Star Game this year, he would have a good case. He was late to camp 2.0 because of a positive COVID test and then was late to being promoted to the roster, but has looked ready each time he’s pitched. He still hasn’t allowed an earned run in 13 innings, using his 94-mph fastball, a tick up from his past couple years, more than he did with the Marlins.

Tony Watson, even with lesser velocity, has been nearly perfect (one earned in 14 innings). Rogers has surrendered an earned run in two of his last 14 appearances. The Giants could use a more reliable power righty arm — could it be Reyes Moronta? — but Sam Coonrod and Gott have shown glimpses of excellence if not consistency yet. Drew Smyly is the latest addition, giving the Giants just one more option if they don’t stretch him into a starter.

“I feel pretty good about the pen,” Kapler said, with good reason.


Get KNBR in your inbox

Subscribe today to bring The Sports Leader to your email inbox weekly.