SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The “bounce back” pitcher has become a staple of the Farhan Zaidi era in San Francisco and Anthony DeSclafani could be the Giants’ top candidate in 2021 to return to form following a lost season.
In a rotation that features several pitchers who battled inconsistent performances or missed starts due to injury in a condensed 2020 season, DeSclafani stands out for the stability that was once his calling card and the early impression he’s made in Cactus League play.
With 3 2/3 innings of one-run ball against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday night at Scottsdale Stadium, DeSclafani looked the part of a mid-rotation starter who pitches to contact and can consistently keep his team in games.
Unlike fellow Giants starters Johnny Cueto, Alex Wood and Aaron Sanchez, DeSclafani has never been named an All-Star and never received a Cy Young vote. At this point in his career, though, DeSclafani might have the best upside of any veteran Giants pitcher not named Kevin Gausman.
He can run his fastball up to 96 miles per hour as he did Thursday against the Mariners and his slider has been a plus offering at times during his career. The Giants think that by increasing his changeup usage, DeSclafani can unlock more of his potential and pitch as well as he did or better than the 2016 season when he had a 3.28 ERA in 20 starts.
“I feel really good with (the changeup),” DeSclafani said. “Today was so-so. I threw a couple really good ones and some that I yanked a few. But the emphasis is on throwing it more and more whether it’s to lefties and righties.”
The Giants know it’s unrealistic for DeSclafani, Wood and Sanchez to all be mainstays in the rotation, but DeSclafani might have the best chance of being durable. Wood missed his scheduled Cactus League start this week after having an ablation for nerves in his lower back while Sanchez will make his spring debut on Friday after missing the entire 2020 season while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Prior to spring training, DeSclafani acknowledged one of the reasons he signed with the Giants on a one-year, $6 million deal was the team’s recent track record with helping starters reestablish themselves.
The reputation exists for good reason.
Drew Pomeranz, who posted a 6.08 ERA with the Boston Red Sox in 2018, was Zaidi’s first “bounce back” project as he signed with the Giants to rebuild his stock as a starting pitcher. Working out of the rotation didn’t pan out for Pomeranz, but a brief stint in the team’s bullpen made him a valuable asset on the trade market.
The Giants traded Pomeranz to the Brewers for Mauricio Dubón and after Pomeranz wrapped up the 2019 season in Milwaukee, he parlayed his bullpen experience into a four-year, $36 million deal with the San Diego Padres.
Right-hander Kevin Gausman and lefty Drew Smyly followed in 2020 as Gausman pitched well enough in San Francisco to receive a one-year qualifying offer worth $18.9 million for this year while Smyly showed in a 26-inning sample size that he could still strike out hitters in bunches. The Giants said they were interested in a reunion with Smyly, but the lefty was one of the first free agents to sign over the offseason as he inked a one-year, $11 million deal with the Braves.
The bounce back philosophy is still alive and well in the Giants’ front office as the club signed DeSclafani, Wood and Sanchez to one-year deals, but Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris know they won’t always strike gold. Pomeranz was a failed experiment in the rotation while Smyly missed more than a month last season due to injury.
Betting on starters who haven’t had recent success is a gamble, but until the Giants develop more homegrown pitchers, it’s the type of move the front office seems compelled to make.
Solano delivers again
By the time DeSclafani exited Thursday’s game, the Mariners had three hits on one run while the Giants had three runs on one hit.
Seattle failed to capitalize on a few early opportunities including one in the third inning when Donovan Solano, Tommy La Stella and Wilmer Flores turned a 5-4-3 double play, but the Giants made the most of their lone chance.
After Dubón, left fielder Joe McCarthy and La Stella drew walks against Mariners righty Justin Dunn, Dubón scored on a wild pitch before Solano cleared the bases with a double off the right field wall. Solano, the reigning Silver Slugger Award winner at second base in the National League, appears poised to pick up where he left off in the batter’s box as he was 11-for-21 in Cactus League play following the extra-base hit on Thursday.
With Evan Longoria unlikely to play the infield until Sunday due to a bout with plantar fasciitis, manager Gabe Kapler plans to continue moving Solano, La Stella and Flores around the diamond to test their versatility and get them familiar with playing different positions.
Regardless of where Solano plays, it’s clear the Giants want his bat in the lineup if he’s going to continue hitting above .325, as he’s done in each of the last two seasons.
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