© John Hefti | 2021 Sep 14
During the Giants’ historic nine-game winning streak, they’ve played three games without a traditional starter. SF used nine relievers in the series finale against the Dodgers, eight in the series-opener in Chicago, and six to best Yu Darvish and the Padres Monday.
To have that many arms at the club’s disposal, the bullpen needs to be rested. And when you’re playing every day, the only way to get relievers rest is for starters to pitch deep into games.
On Tuesday, in San Francisco’s 6-1 win over the Padres, Anthony DeSclafani did just that. And he did it with his turn in the rotation sandwiched between two bullpen games, making a quality start even more imperative. The Giants would surely rather have starters Alex Wood and Johnny Cueto healthy and ready to go. But without them, SF has found success. A key to that is making the most of games when a true starter takes the ball.
“Right now, our three healthy and productive regular starters are doing everything they can to keep our bullpen fresh and strong and giving us a chance to be in good shape for these bullpen games,” manager Gabe Kapler said postgame.
DeSclafani went 6.2 innings of three-hit, one-run ball against the Padres. He pounded the zone, throwing 68 of his 88 pitches for strikes. He didn’t miss bats altogether, but his slider and sinker combination allowed him to avoid solid contact — Jurickson Profar’s third inning double was the only barreled base hit for SD in the entire game.
And his performance allowed the Giants to rest some of their high-leverage arms for Wednesday, when Dominic Leone will “start” his fourth career game as an opener. Jake McGee, José Álvarez, Jarlin García and Zack Littell were all spectators Tuesday, and Tony Watson threw four pitches. José Quintana will also be available on more than normal rest.
DeSclafani said postgame he doesn’t think too much about the pressure of pitching between bullpen games. He also deflected credit at times, both to his catcher Buster Posey and to his pitching coaches.
Still, Tuesday was the second quality start in DeSclafani’s last three appearances. Each came in key spots of the depleted rotation. Before that stretch, he’d gone five straight starts without making it past the fifth.
At least part of that recent success is due to a minor tweak in his delivery. Instead of raising his arms over his head in the windup, he’s ditched that for a more simplified motion. He hasn’t gone with the bells-and-whistles wind up for at least his last two starts. Before that, he got shelled by the Braves and Mets.
“Just felt like I wasn’t getting the feelings that I wanted to out of the windup,” DeSclafani said. “Just kind of feeling disconnected. This is another thing to add to the list as to why our pitching coaches are just awesome. They support you in what you want to do, what changes you want to make. Ultimately, it’s like whatever’s going to feel good, go out and do it.”
DeSclafani added that perhaps in previous years, he would’ve continued with his proven motion even as it felt uncomfortable. He’d gotten results with it in the past, after all. But the change is working, and he needed the coaching staff’s support to make it.
No one pitcher, and no one start, can freshen a bullpen completely. DeSclafani, as well as Kevin Gausman and Logan Webb, have made valiant efforts, though. During the nine-game winning streak, those three pitchers have posted at least six innings in five of their six starts.
“I think it just speaks to the completeness of our roster to be able to do this with two starters going down,” Buster Posey said. “The bullpen’s obviously been great, and different guys are stepping up on the offensive side of things and being able to play some different positions throughout the game. It’s definitely a collective effort when you’re able to rattle off nine in a row.”