Following official announcements naming Matt Cain the #5 starter and Chris Marrero as a member of the opening day roster, the final bullpen slots were the only remaining question mark for the 25 man roster that will open up the season in Arizona this Sunday. After news broke of the demotions of Josh Osich and Albert Suarez, it became a three-man race to fill two spots, with returners Cory Gearrin and Steven Okert competing against non-roster dark horse Neil Ramirez.
The smart money was on Okert to make the roster by virtue of not only his left throwing arm, but by a very strong spring in which he allowed just one earned run in 10 2/3 innings of work. With Will Smith done for the year and Osich on his way to Sacramento, kind of a no-brainer right?
As for Ramirez, all he did was pile up strikeouts to the tune of 16 K/9 this spring, in addition to making it perfectly clear he would not accept “no” for an answer in regards to opening the season in the big leagues.
Source: RHP Neil Ramirez plans to inform #SFGiants tomorrow that he will exercise opt-out if not put on roster. 16Ks in 9.2 IP this spring.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 30, 2017
Ramirez has played nine pro seasons since being taken in the first round of the 2007 draft out of high school, and has seen time in the minor leagues in all nine. Neil ain’t feeling any more bus rides.
So it seemed fairly obvious that Cory Gearrin would wind up as the odd man out given the reasons above, coupled with a less than impressive spring in which he posted a 7.00 ERA. Right?
Nope. Bruce Bochy essentially proclaimed, “We don’t need no stinking lefties” Saturday afternoon, as the team announced it would be Okert headed to Triple-A and right-handers Ramirez and Gearrin heading to Phoenix to begin the 2017 season. The fact both Ramirez and Gearrin are out of minor league options no doubt played a role in the decision, something Bochy spelled out to MLB.com’s Alex Espinoza in no uncertain terms in regards to Ramirez:
“Okert had a very nice spring. He gave up one run,”Bochy said. “But this is where we’re at right now, how we wanted to start it. We didn’t want to lose Ramirez, he had a good spring, too. We’re set. We’re set to go in the bullpen.”
Ty Blach, who will begin the year in the big leagues as an every-man out of the pen, will join Matt Moore and Bumgarner as the staff’s southpaw contingent, and will be the Giants only left-handed reliever. Blach making the team despite losing out in the competition for the fifth starter spot comes as a bit of a surprise as well, as it appears the team views him as a starter-only in the future, and therefore a guy who might benefit more from regular starts in the minors.
What it could mean is Matt Cain’s leash may be even shorter than most have considered it to be, and the team wants Blach to be literally on-hand should the veteran falter. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Blach remains in the seldom used swingman role for a significant part of the season, so there’s also the possibility Blach is sent down to get more innings at some point during the season, leaving the door open for Okert (or Osich) to be recalled.
I know what you’re thinking though, what happens when Carlos Gonzalez comes to the plate with two runners on in the 8th inning of a one-run game? Or Adrian Gonzalez? Or Corey Seager? Or Jake Lamb? Affeldt and Javy are doing TV, and the guy the Giants traded a top prospect for to be their late inning lefty won’t see the field this season. Is Blach going to be that guy?? What the hell do we do now!?
Luckily for the Giants, of the six right-handers they will employ from the bullpen, only Gearrin has struggled against lefties in his career. Lefties have hit just .196 with a .248 BABIP against Mark Melancon, .228 with a .254 BABIP against Hunter Strickland, and .230/.260 off George Kontos. While it’s a small sample size from Derek Law, he was especially successful against left-handers in his rookie season, holding them to a .188 BAA and a .224 BABIP. One doesn’t HAVE to use a LH pitcher against a power hitting lefty batter, something Bochy also elaborated on to Espinoza:
“It’s the old adage — you go with your best pitchers,” Bochy said. “If they’re right-handed, they’re right-handed.”
It’s also worth mentioning that this isn’t uncharted territory for Bochy, who’s 1996 Padres team won the NL West with a bullpen that was entirely right-handed.
“Sometimes you can overdo the matchup, trust me.”
The beauty of March is whatever happens on the field can always be explained away with, “It’s early.” April is the same way, and much is still subject to change.