San Francisco Giants

The Giants expect Mark Melancon to close again, but Will Smith to retain job for now

Giants pitcher Mark Melancon and catcher Buster Posey celebrate a 7-2 win over the San Diego Padres on April 9 in San Francisco.
Giants pitcher Mark Melancon and catcher Buster Posey celebrate a 7-2 win over the San Diego Padres on April 9 in San Francisco. AP

The Giants’ return to Pittsburgh is a homecoming of sorts for reliever Mark Melancon, who recorded 130 career saves and posted a 1.80 ERA for the Pirates between 2013-16.

Melancon was considered one of the most dominant closers in baseball following the 2016 season, which is why the Giants signed him to a four-year, $62 million deal that temporarily made Melancon the highest-paid reliever in baseball history.

Two-plus years into Melancon’s tenure in San Francisco, the right-hander has failed to live up to the expectations of his contract. Melancon has dealt with significant injury issues and saved just 14 games for the Giants, but he could soon have a chance to add to his total.

Manager Bruce Bochy revealed Friday the Giants will consider Melancon as an option to close games moving forward.

“He’s going to save some games for us,” Bochy said. “We’ll have him in that role sometimes.”

Bochy said left-hander Will Smith will remain the Giants’ primary closer, but after Melancon recorded nine straight scoreless outings to open the year, he has thrust himself into the conversation as a valuable option in high-leverage situations.

Smith is 4 for 4 in save chances this year with a 1.35 ERA in seven games, but Bochy loves having Smith available to face left-handed hitters late in games. If the Giants need Smith to get outs against tough lefties in the seventh or eighth innings of particular games, they could turn to Melancon to finish out the ninth.

“It’s nice to have Mark back healthy and throwing the ball the way we know he can,” Bochy said. “He’s gone two innings, so he’s made himself even more versatile which is invaluable for us.”

Melancon missed three separate chunks of time during his first year with the Giants due to a pronator injury that ultimately required season-ending surgery in September, 2017. The surgery was expected to alleviate his pain and allow him to return for Opening Day in 2018, but Melancon began last season on the injured list and saved just three games for the Giants.

Smith took over the closer role shortly after returning from Tommy John surgery last season and earned the job again with a dominant spring this year. Since taking over as the Giants’ primary closer, Smith has always said the inning he pitches does not matter to him as long as the club is positioned to win games.

Melancon has coveted the closer role and after one of his best outings as a Giant in a 4-2 loss to the Nationals Thursday, it’s clear the right-hander has regained the trust of Bochy and his staff.

“What a super job he did, we brought him in a tough predicament there and he just pitched lights-out,” Bochy said.

Melancon entered the game with runners on first and third and no one out and promptly struck out the first two hitters he faced before inducing a popout to end the inning.