Not only did Hunter Strickland not pitch in the Giants’ just-completed sweep of the Padres – the right-hander went all three games without getting up to throw in the bullpen.
“That’s not normal for me,” said Strickland, who has worked the second-most innings (17) among Giants relievers this season. “But it was refreshing.”
The entire bullpen got an extended breather in San Diego as starters Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija combined to throw 26 of 27 innings in the series. Add an off day before that series, and the Giants’ bullpen had thrown just three innings over five days entering Friday’s series opener against the Chicago Cubs.
It made for a sharp contrast to the last time the Giants were at AT&T Park, finishing a homestand with a 13-inning win over the Toronto Blue Jays. After that win, manager Bruce Bochy admitted he was “a little concerned” with the state of his bullpen. Friday, he had no such concerns that the Giants’ relievers might be rested to the point of being rusty.
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“We make sure they get their work in,” Bochy said. “It’s a good thing occasionally to get them a break. … They can benefit from the break they just had over the next few months. It’s a long season, so it’s nice to have these starters take us deep the way they have been.”
Bochy pointed to Josh Osich and Cory Gearrin as relievers who could benefit from a few consecutive days off. Osich leads the team in relief appearances (21) and Gearrin in relief innings (17 2/3 ).
Overall, though, Giants relievers entered Friday having thrown the second-fewest innings (115 1/3 ) in the National League, with only the Cubs (105) logging fewer. That could be attributed largely to the front of their rotation. Cueto and Samardzija are averaging more than seven innings over their first nine starts, with Bumgarner averaging just under seven.
It’s what the Giants envisioned from their top starters, and Bochy said Friday, “It’s nice to have three guys that you can ride pretty hard, but at the same time don’t feel like we’re over-riding them.”
It’s also a luxury that Bochy doesn’t want to abuse.
“We’ll pick our spots where we do give (the starters) a break, shortening up a little bit,” Bochy said. “But scoring dictates that. When you’re in a close game, you want your best guy out there, who you think is your best guy to win that game. And it’s hard to argue that they’re not.”
With Bumgarner and Cueto throwing complete games in San Diego, closer Santiago Casilla was the lone Giants reliever to pitch against the Padres, saving Thursday’s finale. All other relievers began the Cubs series having not pitched in at least four days.
“I think that’s about as much rest as you can ever expect to have (during a season),” said Gearrin. “It’s huge for a bullpen. That little bit of rest can carry you for a long time.”
Gearrin said the relievers stay involved during long layoffs by throwing bullpen sessions, watching video and remaining mentally ready to pitch.
“You know what you need to do to stay sharp,” Gearrin said. “If our rotation goes out and throws complete games the rest of the season, you’re not going to hear complaints from anybody.”
Notes – The Giants held a moment of silence before Friday’s game for former third baseman Jim Ray Hart, who died Thursday at 74 years old. Hart played 11 seasons (1963-73) for the Giants and was an All-Star in 1966.
Giants president and CEO Larry Baer released a statement saying the organization was “deeply saddened by the news of Jim’s passing.”
▪ Reliever Sergio Romo (flexor tendon strain), threw 24 pitches in an inning at extended spring training Friday. Bochy said Romo should join the River Cats on a rehab assignment soon and could be less than two weeks from rejoining the Giants.
▪ Cubs manager Joe Maddon joked before Friday’s game it felt as if his team was playing at home because of strong winds at AT&T Park. Maddon said the Cubs’ flight into San Francisco the previous day had been diverted to Oakland because of high winds.