Bullpen issues arise again as Giants drop first game vs. Dodgers

Author:
NBC Sports Bay Area

LOS ANGELES — About two weeks before the start of spring training, as he was working out back in Iowa, Giants pitcher Keaton Winn had a breakthrough. 

Winn’s right wrist allows him to throw one of the game’s nastier splitters, but his natural movements have always made it hard to figure out how to throw a good breaking ball. He has spent years trying to figure out how to properly get around the baseball while throwing a slider, but this winter, a workout partner encouraged him to lock his wrist and instead think of cutting the ball in half with every attempt. 

In his head, something finally clicked. That tends to happen when the advice is coming from someone like Mitch Keller, the Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star who is an Iowa native like Winn.

The second-year starter threw a career-high 20 sliders Monday, 14 of which were strikes, and four that got whiffs. He said it was the best his slider has felt in a game, and it’s a feeling he wants to build on.

“It moves,” he said of the slider, smiling. “It moves, finally.”

A third reliable pitch would help Winn — who showed promise last year with a fastball-splitter approach — stick in the rotation long-term. But right now, that might not be where the Giants need him.

Winn gave up three runs in five innings at Dodger Stadium, but the Giants bullpen allowed five more in an 8-3 loss to Los Angeles. It’s early, but so far there’s little doubt about the weakness on the roster. Not counting Tyler Fitzgerald’s appearance on Sunday, manager Bob Melvin has sent a reliever to the mound 16 times through five games. In 10 of those appearances, that reliever has given up at least one run.

Asked about the bullpen’s early-season issues, Melvin pointed out that the Giants left 10 on base in the loss. That’s a problem, too, but it’s one that will have to be solved by the current personnel. The bullpen might undergo big changes this season. 

“We have some guys coming, and that’s going to be key for us,” Melvin said. “Whether it’s Blake [Snell], whether it’s Alex [Cobb], and Robbie Ray is down the road. Closing games is going to be key for us.”

None of those three will end up in the bullpen, but if they can all come back healthy and effective, the Giants will have other options. 

Winn should have at least one more turn through the rotation, but Snell will be back next Monday and Cobb is eligible to return the next day. That could allow the Giants to move forward with a group of Logan Webb, Snell, Cobb, Kyle Harrison and Jordan Hicks. 

Winn did make four relief appearances last year, but they weren’t your typical ones. He twice threw five innings out of the bullpen, and threw four and three innings the other two times. 

The Giants right now don’t need length from their bullpen, they need clean innings. As Winn was sitting at 98 mph in the first inning and showing his go-to splitter, it was easy to picture him solving some of the bullpen’s problems if the five starters ahead of him are healthy. 

If Ray returns on time, Hicks, a longtime reliever, could find himself in the same spot. Other young starters ultimately could join Landen Roupp, a starter in Double-A who thus far has been the most effective Giants reliever. 

If Winn keeps developing, he could spend years in the Giants’ rotation. But with the way this team is built right now, the bullpen is the group that will need help in the early months. 

Monday’s game got away from the Giants when Erik Miller ran into trouble and Tyler Rogers gave up a three-run homer. It was the second homer in three games against Rogers, who had allowed just 17 total in his previous five seasons. 

On this night, the homer was the biggest blow against a group of relievers that has a 10.00 ERA through five games. Melvin summed it all up in just a few words. 

“We can be better,” he said.

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