PEORIA, Ariz. — After 2019 All-Star Will Smith signed a free-agent deal with the Atlanta Braves this offseason, the Giants officially had a closer vacancy.
Right-hander Rodolfo Martinez isn’t a candidate to fill the job, but it might not be long before the 25-year-old Dominican Republic native is in the mix.
Martinez received the call from minor league camp on Thursday to join the Giants for their matchup with the Seattle Mariners at the Peoria Sports Complex. With San Francisco out of big league arms and holding a one-run lead in the ninth, manager Gabe Kapler called on Martinez to see what the unproven flame-thrower had in the tank.
“It turns out he has a history of being able to really run it up there,” Kapler said. “We’re looking for ways to bring that out of him a little bit more consistently.”
The Giants found one.
In a save situation, Martinez entered and touched 100 miles per hour on the stadium radar gun. The unheralded reliever allowed a two-out ninth inning single, but reached back for some high-90s heat to strike out former Giants infielder Alen Hanson and end the game.
The Giants won 4-3 and Martinez reminded the organization’s evaluators there’s a reason that he was the closer and established major league reliever Reyes Moronta was the set-up man for the High-A San Jose Giants back in 2016.
“Eye-opening moment for a lot of us,” Kapler said.
Martinez had a 5.94 ERA in 14 appearances at Double-A Richmond last year, so there’s plenty of room for him to improve before he’s in the discussion for a big league bullpen spot. With that caveat, it’s much easier for relievers to rise through the ranks during the regular season.
Beede right on track
Tyler Beede spent most of the 2019 season in the Giants’ rotation, but unlike Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, a starting job on the 2020 staff is not guaranteed.
Beede kicked off his bid to win a rotation spot on Thursday in Peoria with two impressive innings against a Seattle Mariners lineup lined with a handful of starters and a few top prospects.
In a 1-2-3 first inning, the right-hander reached back and hit 98 miles on the stadium radar gun twice and mixed in three others fastballs that clocked in at 96 miles per hour or above. According to Statcast, Beede’s hardest pitch last season was a 97.6-mile per hour fastball he threw to strike out former Vanderbilt teammate and current Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, so the numbers from Thursday’s first inning represented a slight uptick.
Beede also lit up the radar gun in Cactus League play last spring, but with the help of the Giants’ coaching staff, he’s taking a data-driven approach to the mound that the organization believes will lead to improved results and sustainable velocity.
“You’ll see a lower usage of fastballs,” Beede said. “And for me, it’s just trusting my off-speed pitches even when I do throw one that maybe bounces or gets away from me a little bit, it’s just the confidence and knowing that they’re effective pitches for me.”
Beede registered two strikeouts on Thursday, one on a curveball, a pitch that had a 50.1 percent whiff rate for him last year, and one on a changeup, a pitch that had a 37.1 percent whiff rate for him in 2019.
“The curveball and changeup are my most effective pitches just based on the numbers,” Beede said. “Guys putting them in play, swing and miss rates, low contact, and so when I threw them last year, they were very successful pitches for me.”
Webb watching Kluber
Giants pitcher Logan Webb showed off three good pitches –a fastball, slider and changeup– in eight major league starts last season, but the organization’s top pitching prospect is devoting his spring to tweaking his repertoire with the goal of becoming a front-of-the-rotation starter.
Webb has changed the shape of his slider and added a two-seam fastball and cutter to the mix this spring and said he’s feeling more confident in his new pitches each time he takes the mound.
The right-hander said new Giants director of pitching Brian Bannister approached him about consistently throwing from his natural arm slot instead of the over-the-top motion Webb has used at times in his professional career. With a slightly lower release, Webb showed the cutter can be an effective pitch as he broke a pair of bats in two innings against the Mariners on Thursday.
“I already kind of cut the ball a little bit, so the last couple of years, there’s always been times during the season where I’m trying to throw a cutter,” Webb said. “I couldn’t really get it down and (Bannister) came in, showed me how to throw it, where they want my hand and it’s coming along.”
Webb said the Giants have showed him video of pitchers successfully utilizing a cutter out of the arm slot he throws from and one of the primary starter’s he’s watched is two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber.
“He throws from that angle with a cutter, sinker type of thing, so that’s a guy definitely I’d like to watch and see how he works with his pitches,” Webb said.
Webb also tried to make a lifestyle change this offseason when he attempted to go vegan, but unlike his new cutter and slider, he abandoned the effort.
“I like In-N-Out too much,” Webb said.
Don’t forget Donovan
The Giants have an extremely crowded competition for infield spots this spring, but utility player Donovan Solano is making a nice early impression in camp.
Following the best year of his pro career, Solano went 2-for-2 on Thursday with a pair of hard-hit singles as he looks to secure one of the backup infield jobs up for grabs this spring.
With the acquisition of Wilmer Flores and minor league free-agents Pablo Sandoval and Yolmer Sánchez also competing for roster spots, Solano is surrounded by higher-profile or more accomplished players who have longer big league track records.
Solano’s .330 batting average in 2019 and .843 OPS against left-handed pitchers might be unsustainable given his league-leading .409 batting average on balls in play, but even if his offensive numbers decrease, he still provides the Giants with the positional versatility to be an above-average defender at third base, shortstop and second.
In a camp where players who can move around the diamond on defense and control the strike zone on offense will have an edge, Solano is off to a nice start.
Worried about our fifth thing?
Have no fear, the Bay Area News Group worked overtime on Thursday to bring you an in-depth look at the moment Giants prospect Hunter Bishop and his older brother Braden shared the field for the first time.