Anthony DeSclafani believes in himself and believes a comeback is on the way. His 2020 season was a chaotic disappointment, beginning with a shoulder injury, starting and enduring with inconsistency, the starts and stops from the coronavirus especially complicated for pitchers and especially complicated for a player whose wife gave birth to their first child in August.
There are reasons to believe his 2021 campaign naturally will be better, with his arm and shoulder and mind in a better place. That place specifically will be San Francisco, which has made strong cases the past few years that it can help arms like his get back on track. Yes, DeSclafani said, he has noticed that Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly and Drew Pomeranz turned one-year, make-good pacts into much more lucrative deals the following season.
The Giants are “obviously doing something right,” DeSclafani said over the phone last week. “There’s something that they’re hitting on with maybe making tweaks with these guys. It definitely opens your eyes and makes you think, ‘All right, what can they do for me?’
“But by the same token, I have a lot of confidence in myself that I’m better than I was last year.”
If he is, the Giants will be the beneficiaries because they built a system and culture that players want to be a part of. DeSclafani wanted to be a Giant, the match a good one for a team that needed (and needs) rotation help with nice upsides. DeSclafani is the type of live arm who has flashed excellence if not consistency that made him an intriguing addition on his $6 million contract.
President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has said he wants to make the club a destination, one that becomes known for maximizing talent. It is easier to sell Oracle Park, right-field ducts and all, to a pitcher than a hitter — even if the free-agent batters are not seeing the endless outfield space they have in the past.
And granted, it’s easier to sell a pitcher who is building his value rather than a pitcher who is trying to maximize his earnings, like DeSclafani’s former teammate, Trevor Bauer. But it is not the dimensions that most caught the attention of DeSclafani, who said he made good progress with Reds pitching mind Derek Johnson and (now Phillies coach) Caleb Cotham. It’s the Giants’ staff.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about [Andrew] Bailey and [Brian] Bannister,” he said, also referencing new assistant pitching coach J.P. Martinez. “… I know they’ve got a solid good core of coaches that are very well-versed in different aspects of helping pitchers get better, understand the game better.
“Every day you’re trying to get better, and you have all these eyes on you.”
Bailey, the pitching coach, and Bannister, the director of pitching, head a system that prides itself both on advanced technologies and open communication with its staff. DeSclafani has talked with Bailey twice, but expected a group call soon to discuss their early thoughts on how best to return him to a pitcher who posted a 120 ERA-plus in 2019.
Last season, DeSclafani’s velocity actually spiked — his average fastball was 94.9 mph, the best of his career — and he threw it less than ever (51.3 percent of the time). He wants to work with the Giants’ pitching team, which tends to advise pitchers to threw fewer heaters, to find the right balance, his slider his best pitch. DeSclafani is open to ideas, which is only part of the reason the interest was mutual.
As the club conducted background research, there were plenty of avenues to vouch for his pitching and character makeup. From Cincinnati are hitting coach Donnie Ecker — “super smart guy” — along with pitchers Kevin Gausman, Wandy Peralta and Matt Wisler. He can throw to Chadwick Tromp, a former Reds prospect, or recent Giants signing Curt Casali, who caught DeSclafani for three years in Cincinnati.
DeSclafani was “super excited” Casali would be joining him.
“Curt knows my game, what I was working on in Cincinnati and the game plans we would put together,” said DeSclafani, who played with Donovan Solano, too, in Miami. “I think that just helps the transition even more … as far as just relaying what I’m trying to do. I know him and Buster [Posey] are always going to be talking a lot about every pitcher, but it’s just going to help with my transition over there as well.”
Casali said his buddy has been best when attacking hitters early in counts and expects seven- and eight-inning starts from the 30-year-old. Playing in a bigger ballpark or any other ballpark, really — “I’m not sure how many ballparks are going to be smaller than Great American,” DeSclafani said — will help.
As will playing an entire season that doesn’t (hopefully) have the starts and stops that were unique to 2020. As will playing with plenty of friends from his past. And will a coaching staff he believes in.