SCOTTSDALE — Conner Menez showed promising stuff out of the Giants’ bullpen in stints that ranged from one inning to three, his deceptive stuff working well. He allowed two runs in his 2020 debut, but rattled off 10 1/3 innings of one-earned-run ball from there, before he was demoted following an Aug. 10 outing. The Giants needed an arm that was more fresh, and Dereck Rodriguez was summoned briefly. The assumption was Menez would be back soon.
“I assumed so, too,” Menez said over the phone this week.
Instead, he wasn’t heard from again. He dealt with a “lat spasm,” he said, which only lasted a few days, and he bounced back quickly. His stuff played the same at the alternate site in Sacramento, he said, but his phone didn’t buzz.
The Giants’ lefty relievers were pitching well, he was told. There may have been concern about the lat, he was told. The season came and went while he watched from afar.
“The velocity was the same, all my stuff was the same,” the 25-year-old from Hollister said. “I was just stuck.”
Lefty relief was not the problem last year — Jarlin Garcia, Wandy Peralta, Sam Selman and Tony Watson were excellent, and even Andrew Suarez performed well in a few longer outings — and the Giants wanted Menez to work on “cleaning up his arm action a little bit, a little bit of a shorter arm stroke,” Gabe Kapler said Saturday.
It would be understandable if Menez felt forgotten. What the Giants must enjoy, though, is he felt motivated. The past few months has been defined by his tireless work redoing his mechanics to maximize his stuff — which could force his way into more Giants conversations.
“Especially coming back from 2020, not getting called up and stuff, I just wanted to work very hard this offseason and come into camp just trying different stuff, see if I can get my velocity up and be more consistent in the strike zone,” said Menez, who worked with Andrew Bailey remotely all winter, sending the pitching coach videos of his workouts and bullpen sessions, seeking and getting feedback.
To Menez, his new windup feels “a little more fluid” than the slower, crossfire windup he used to rely upon. In fact, he is going the Kevin Gausman route and no longer using a windup, mostly just pitching out of the stretch.
When he raises his right leg, he focuses on his lower body and sticks his butt out a bit more, as well as raising his hands more than he has in the past. There’s a little more power he’s reaching for, and he’s found a rhythm to it — he’s no longer thinking about his mechanics.
“It’s going to help me clear the rubber a little bit more and not be as crossfire as I normally am,” said the Master’s University product. “So that’s going to help me kind of rotate and … just kind of get me lower.”
He’s seeking consistency and fluidity and results and velocity — which he’s been pleased with early in the spring season. He said his fastball during bullpen sessions has been about 91-94 mph, all without the adrenaline of facing opponents. His fastball averaged 91.4 mph last year.
The Giants have said they can see Menez as anything — a starter, swingman, reliever. They have a risk-filled rotation that will need replenishing plenty, and Menez figures to start games with Sacramento. He’ll have his first chance to impress immediately, though, opening the Cactus League season Sunday as the Giants’ starter against the Angels at Scottsdale Stadium.
“It feels pretty normal. I’ve been good here for a while now,” the recently married Menez said about his new mechanics. “It’s nice to be able to go in the bullpen, work on it, then go in the game and not even focus on it — just focus on throwing strikes.”