In 2010, the hard-throwing left-hander earned a World Series ring after appearing in 41 games for the Giants with a 3.03 ERA. But his trajectory seemed to stall after that, and Runzler spent all of last season at Triple-A Fresno, where he recorded a 5.68 ERA and was designated for assignment in September.
Runzler, now 29, is back in Giants camp this spring as a non-roster invitee, and his early impressions have been positive. In two games, Runzler has yet to allow a hit over 12/3 innings. Wednesday, manager Bruce Bochy said he “looks like a different guy this spring and very determined.”
“It’s early,” Bochy said, “but I like the way he’s bouncing back.”
Runzler admits last season was trying but also instructive. He had a 2.61 ERA at Fresno after April but hit a bad stretch in June and July, recording a 7.72 mark in 21 games – “a few weeks there where it was just as bad as it can get.”
“I went through a bunch of things,” Runzler said. “It was tough, but it was something I benefited from because I learned quite a bit about myself, about the game. I learned there’s a bunch of stuff you can’t control.
“When I let my mind kind of go to rest, it made everything a lot better.”
While Runzler’s rise to the majors was quick after the Giants drafted him in 2007, he was unable to stick there. It’s something he said wore on him in recent years, to where pitching at times became “more of a stressful situation rather than getting to the root of it where you’re throwing the ball and having a good time.”
This spring, Runzler said he feels refreshed – mentally and physically – and glad for a “clean slate.” There also happen to be at least two jobs up for competition in the Giants’ bullpen, and with his experience and mid-90s fastball, Runzler figures to be in the mix.
Still, he said: “That kind of goes back to something I can’t control. All I can do is (be) excited to get the baseball anytime Boch gives it to me.”
• Tim Hudson continued the starting rotation’s strong start in spring games, pitching three scoreless innings in the Giants’ 3-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday. Overall, the starters have thrown 20 innings without allowing an earned run.
Hudson did walk two and got out of a couple jams. Maybe more notably, he started a 1-6-3 double play in the first inning and afterward said he didn’t feel pain or even think about his surgically repaired right ankle on the play.
• Pablo Sandoval hit his first Cactus League home run and made a diving play on a sharp ground ball in the fourth inning. Said Hudson: “People talk about his weight or whatever, but he’s an athlete. Regardless if he’s 20 pounds lighter or 20 pounds heavier, he’s a guy I think can surprise you with how athletic he is at third base.”
On Thursday, however, some of the inexperience showed. Gray, whose big-league résumé consists of 12 starts and 77 innings counting last year’s postseason, looked a little shellshocked. The first four batters up for the Arizona Diamondbacks hit him hard, including a two-run double by Martin Prado, and it was all Gray could do to finish the first inning.
Gray, a second-year pitcher who is locked into one of the five spots in the A’s rotation, threw mostly fastballs and changeups and did not have command of the strike zone with either. As a result, the Diamondbacks were able to tee off. He gave up five hits and four runs in a game that wound up tied 8-8 when it was called after the 10th inning.
“I felt good, but it doesn’t matter how good your stuff is,” he said. “When you are 2-0 to every batter, you’ll get hit.”
The A’s see the fastball and curve as Gray’s two major weapons, but they would like to see the changeup come along as a third pitch, particularly if he could throw it to left-handed hitters in big situations.
“He’ll need a third pitch,” Melvin said, “especially to left-handers.”