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How Giants view Shun Yamaguchi, former Japan star and new pitching option

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

There will be 1,458 — give or take, with extra innings added and seven-inning doubleheaders subtracted — that need to be pitched this year. Giants pitchers totaled 517 2/3 last season.

Farhan Zaidi had been asked about pitching generally on a day the Giants officially signed Aaron Sanchez, but his response helps explain the Saturday addition of Shun Yamaguchi, too.

“We just know we’re going to need at least seven, eight, nine starting pitchers to get through the season,” Zaidi said on a Zoom call Sunday. “… We’re trying to focus more on what are reasonable workloads to get out of all these guys over the course of the full season and seeing if we can kind of do the math to get up to 162 games. That’s going to be a challenge for every team in baseball this year.”

It’s doubtful they can add 181 innings from Yamaguchi, the total he threw in Japan in 2019, but he’s a contender to be part of that math equation.

In bringing in the former Yokohama BayStar and Yomiuri Giants star on a minor league deal with a camp invite, a pitcher who struggled in 2020 with the Blue Jays, the Giants are taking a no-risk, decent-reward chance on an established starter and reliever elsewhere trying to prove he can make it in the majors.

He signed a two-year, $6.35 million pact with Toronto last year, which was a rough one to debut in alongside the pandemic. (He didn’t even play in Toronto, as the Blue Jays’ home games were shifted to Buffalo.) The righty struggled in 25 2/3 innings of relief (8.77 ERA) and was designated for assignment this offseason. With a fastball and splitter he primarily relies upon, the Giants are hoping they can see what made him a star in Japan.

Zaidi referenced his “tremendous” ’19 season, in which he pitched to a 2.78 ERA with 194 strikeouts and 64 walks in those 181 innings.

“A pro who has weapons who can fill different roles for us,” Zaidi said of the 33-year-old. “Our plan is to stretch him out as a starter. That rotation depth is so critical.”

They could convert him back to a reliever later, but there will be a deadline for the Giants to determine how much they value him. Yamaguchi has an opt-out before the season, which he likely will trigger if he doesn’t make the roster. Though Zaidi said Yamaguchi “hasn’t totally closed the door on that possibility if it makes sense for both sides.”


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