SAN DIEGO — Camilo Doval jogged to the mound from the bullpen with a man on first and two outs. The Giants, then in Coors field, clung to a 6-4 lead in the final inning of the second game of their double-header.
It was May 4, and Doval was making his eighth big league appearance. The rookie could make radar guns blink, but struggled with command.
Against the Rockies that night, Doval allowed a deep single to C.J. Cron. Then he hung a slider to Charlie Blackmon, who ended the game with a walk-off home run. Doval failed to record an out in the blown save.
Doval would allow three more earned runs in his next five appearances before being sent down to Triple-A. But that was late May. It’s now late September. Doval has learned from his time earlier in the season, including — perhaps especially — his struggles.
“The experience that I had the first time I came here allowed me to go out there and make some adjustments,” Doval said, Giants assistant coach Nick Ortiz interpreting. “Now, I have confidence in what I have to do here in the big leagues to help the team out. That experience early in the year has really helped out for a second go-around here this time of year.”
Doval’s growth was on full display Wednesday in San Diego. When Scott Kazmir loaded the bases without recording an out in the fifth inning, manager Gabe Kapler called upon Doval to clean up the mess. Kapler had said pregame it was “time to push Camilo a little bit.” This was that proverbial push incarnated.
The 24-year-old rose to the task. He struck out five-time All-Star Manny Machado with three straight sliders. Then he induced an inning-ending ground ball from Tommy Pham to end the inning. Doval absorbed the push.
“I think one of the gutsier performances of the year from anybody in our pen” Kapler said of Doval’s fifth inning. “There was intensity going on, but coming from him was pure calm.”
The eight-pitch performance extended Doval’s scoreless appearance streak to 10. In 8.1 scoreless September innings, Doval has struck out nine and walked three. He threw seven pitches over 100mph Tuesday and two more Wednesday.
“He’s throwing really hard,” Kapler joked, answering a question about what’s different with Doval. “He’s always thrown really hard. But he’s throwing really, really hard.”
Really, the difference is strike-throwing. Doval has always struggled with command, even at the minor league level, but said he’s made adjustments throughout the season to help him attack hitters and gain confidence. He’s walked seven batters per nine innings for the River Cats in 2021, but four per nine in The Show.
“The stuff is obviously there, but you see the command is really improving,” Kazmir said. “Especially with the slider. If he’s able to locate that, it’s going to be tough for anybody up at the plate.”
Doval, a Dominican Republic native, grew up a fan of Johnny Cueto, Carlos Martinez and Yordano Ventura. Cueto, now his teammate, has been an influential presence for him. Cueto’s mentorship has helped Doval become comfortable and confident.
Kapler said Doval takes every strong performance with him the next game, a train of momentum building on itself. He added he sees Doval carrying himself with more swagger, and though he doesn’t express many emotions on the mound, Doval can be quietly impassioned.
The 24-year-old said people have told him he has the stuff to be a big league closer one day; that’s what a 102-mph fastball and wipeout slider will do. Becoming a closer eventually is his goal, but now he’s focused on contributing for SF any way he can.
In the meantime, Kazmir said he owes Doval a dinner for his damage control.
“It was unbelievable,” Kazmir said.”He’s got ice in his veins. It’s impressive how young he is and still to be able to just, that big of a moment to be that composed and make those pitches, especially to Machado… that was amazing.”