Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Bull Pen Woes Once Again? By Ed Stern

Marty; The season is now six games behind us. six games in a long marathon season. While these six games have undoubtedly not bequeathed additional insight to us, they may have reinforced thoughts which have been lurking since the start of spring training.

The Giants have won four of these six games, three of them coming at the expense of the hapless Rockies. In these games, not unexpectedly, the team has called on the bullpen in each of them. Leaving Benitez aside, he having performed as expected, the ”pen, in the 6th, 7th and 8th innings has failed, with dismal regularity, to get hitters out.They have pitched in 17 innings and have a collective ERA of over nine runs a game. Brower, in a post game interview, attempts to put the best face on the ineptness by saying, “We’re just using it up now, as long as we’re winning through it, the confidence is there with everybody”.

The only problem with Brower’s purported attitude is that they won’t continue winning until Brower, Christiansen, Eyre and others start getting batters out in the late innings. The two games they lost were against LA and the bullpen had a major responsibility for the losses.

At the start of spring training. when the Giants’ roster was apparently set, this page attempted to evaluate the prospects for the coming year. The major concern expressed was the possibility that the bullpen which, with the exception of the Benitez addition, was, to all intents and purposes, very similar to the bullpen which ended the 2004 season. Not a happy thought. At the end of last year, a time when the bullpen wasn’t performing well, the common wisdom was that they were so overworked during the season that they had nothing left when the season drew to a close.

Unfortunately, the common wisdom doesn’t work when the season consists of the first six games. The team needs a setup man who can reliably enter in the 8th inning; they need middle relief help which prevents the opposition from getting back into a losing game. Eyre was some help last year and conceivably could be of similar assistance this year. He doesn’t impress one as a setup man, turning the ball over to Bernitez in the 9th, no worse off than they were at the beginning of the 8th. Where are you. Joe Nathan, when we need you?

Brower performed well enough last year against right handed hitters. When he faced left handed batters, they hit well over .300 against him. He can count on facing such hitters in the late innings when the game is on the line. The Giants bullpen lost many games last year in the late innings. A repetition of this performance is not welcome.

Christiansen has been signed and re-signed by the Giants without much reason other than that he throws left-handed. That is insufficient reason. Walker doesn’t even have that going for him. For some ill-defined reason, Alou seems to have faith in him. Herges has turned into a run of the mill performer after failing as a closer. Benitez aside,there isn’t much in this bullpen to get excited about.

It was also pointed out here, at the start of the training season, that any optimism respecting this year’s performance would depend upon a strong rotation; that it could develop, however, that the Giants’ starters would comprise the strongest staff in the league. Nothing which has happened in these early games leads one to conclude that this was an overly hopeful attitude.

The most positive development has been the early showing of Lowry and Williams. These are two young pitchers who pitch as though they had about ten years of successful pitching behind them. This doesn’t come as any great surprise to those who have watched each of them in their relatively brief careers. These are pitchers who give every indication of being able to pitch consistently into the late innings of a game.

Having said that, let us consider where Rueter fits into this picture. The morning press continues to describe Rueter as the number two starter on the staff, relegating Williams to the number five slot. Rueter started the year pitching immediately after Schmidt opened the season. Part of the reasoning behind this, apparently, was Alou’s desire to split up his right and left handed pitchers. This left Williams pitching fifth in the order. Williams’ absence from the club for a number of training days was another factor in the arrangement of the starters.

One should not conclude from Rueters appearance on the second day of the season that Alou or anyone else was of the opinion that in the event the occasion arose that a must win game was on the horizon, and the choice of a starter was Rueter or Williams, that Rueter would be the pitcher of choice. Rueter’s start against LA was a typical Rueter performance. He went five innings, was not called upon to pitch the 6th. He struggled through those five, giving up two runs, consistent with his traditional ERA of somewhere in the high four runs a game. Last year, with a losing record, he had the worst record in the league of walks versus strikeouts of any pitcher throwing more than 100 innings.

When one couples this with the bullpen’s difficulties already decribed, this becomes a prescription for a losing effort, more often than not, every fifth day. Foppert, and possibly Cain, are waiting in the wings. Rueter is a team favorite but the time may come, sooner rather than later, when he is asked to sit down and allow a youngster to take over.

In addition, it seems unlikely that Sabean will allow inadequacies in the bullpen to continue unabated; help will be forthcoming, whether it be from Fresno or the free agent market, if there still is such a market, or by trade. Assuming the healthy return of Bonds and Alou, this team is too close to being a post season contender to allow the bullpen to deep six the club.

One of the encouraging aspects of the early going has been the good defensive efforts of the infield. Vizquel has been a sight to behold, giving the Giants a view of how shortstop should be played that the team hasn’t seen in many a year. The combination of Vizquel and Snow playing together should delight anyone interested in seeing how many games can be won by great infield play. Added to this is the play of Alfonzo. This may be the year that Alfonzo justifies the inordinate salary he has been paid these past two years and which continues for two more. And not a moment too soon!

Worthy of note is the play of Feliz in left field. He has turned into an adequate left fielder. Having in mind that he is playing out of position, that he is a third baseman who has been asked in the past to play first base and even, on a few occasions, shortstop, one begins to wonder at his versitility. Add to this the fact that his hitting has improved over the years, even though being asked to play everywhere but at his natural third base, and you have player who has proven his value to the club in an unmistakable fashion.

This team is playing as though they intend to stay in contention until the return of Bonds. How long it will take Alou, on his return shortly, to play himself into something resembling last year’s hitter is open to question. This may continue to be an outfield by committee. Sabean may, in this situation as well, have something to say, at mid year, when losing teams begin to put desirable players on the market.

Next week should be interesting. LA for two games, the Rockies, in Denver, for three and San Diego for two. Rueter will try for more than five innings tomorrow. Alou may sit Williams down, as a result of the off days and despite his fine performance in his first start. Somehow, the thought of Williams sitting out a turn, when Rueter remains in the rotation, is disturbing, inevitable though it is as the result of pitching Rueter in the second game.

The season has started, for which we can be thankful. We can now turn to the sports pages first rather than the front page. A welcome change.



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