San Francisco Giants

Long relief competition for San Francisco Giants still murky

SCOTTSDALE -- While we’re still at the point of any talk of performance or position battles being qualified with: "It’s still early in spring," there’s one potential competition for the Giants that still has yet to really take shape.

That’s long man in the bullpen, which ostensibly is Yusmeiro Petit’s to lose after Petit went 4-1 with a 3.56 ERA in eight games (seven starts) for the Giants last season. Petit, though, hasn’t done much to solidify his case so far this spring, allowing seven earned runs and 11 hits in 2 1/3 innings in his two Cactus League outings.

It’s still early (see?), and manager Bruce Bochy said today that the 29-year-old right-hander is still "kind of pitching himself into shape." One candidate to wrestle the job away from Petit would be left-hander David Huff, whom the Giants acquired from the Yankees for cash in January. But Huff hasn’t pitched in a game yet this spring due to shoulder problems.

Bochy said Huff should be able to make his debut soon and is scheduled to face hitters in camp on Friday. Another potential long relief candidate would be Kameron Loe, who has thrown four innings so far this spring and whom Bochy said the Giants could stretch out if necessary. Overall, the long reliever role is one that Bochy admitted is "kind of tough" to weigh right now.

"I think you get down to the last 10 days, that’s when you really start bearing down on exactly where the guys are and who’s going to be the better fit for us," Bochy said. "Not just those two, everybody who’s competing for the club."

Bochy was also asked if the Giants would consider starting the season without a long relief option in the bullpen and seemed to blanch at that idea, citing the Giants’ being exposed somewhat last season by injuries and early exits from their starters. So while competition has yet to heat up, this figures to be one battle to keep an eye on.

In fact, the majority of position competition in this camp figures to be in the bullpen, where there are two openings for sure and a wide range of candidates. Several are relatively short on experience, including Heath Hembree, Jake Dunning and Jose De Paula. Bochy said the Giants wouldn’t rule out going young in the bullpen if they think those relievers give them the best chance, but that past performance can’t be ignored.

Jean Machi, one of the veteran candidates, earned the save in the Giants’ 3-2 win over the Reds today, though he did allow a ninth-inning run in the process. Machi nailed down the final two outs with the potential tying run in scoring position. The right-hander has given up two runs in three innings in three spring appearances.

One pitcher who won’t be in that mix -- right-hander Sandy Rosario, who was among the 13 players sent out in the first round of cuts this morning. Rosario pitched in 43 games for the Giants last season but arrived in camp this spring with an undisclosed ailment and hasn’t pitched in a game yet. Bochy said the Giants still haven’t pinpointed what’s wrong with Rosario, who will rehab and prepare for the season in minor-league camp.

* Tim Hudson started against the Reds on Thursday and threw three scoreless innings. He issued two walks and pitched out of a couple of jams. Maybe more notably -- he brought this up, anyway -- Hudson started a 1-6-3 double play in the first inning and later said he didn’t feel pain or even think about his surgically repaired right ankle on the play.

Hudson said he’s happy with how his ankle feels nearly eight months removed from the surgery, though he added: "I know there’s going to be some times where it’s not going to feel great." He said he has talked some with Buster Posey about what it’s like recovering from a serious ankle injury and Posey told him there likely will be days where he’ll feel the ankle, "but for the most part he doesn’t even ever think about it now."

The first-inning double play nullified a leadoff walk by Hudson, who also pitched out of a two-on, one-out situation in the third by striking out Ramon Santiago and Chris Heisey.

"I wasn’t really, really sharp (in his first outing) and this game was a little bit of the same, but actually the last inning I felt like I was turning the corner, making some pretty good pitches," Hudson said. "Felt like I was staying in line to both sides of the plate. All in all, it was good work for me."

Hudson’s three innings continued the rotation’s strong start to the Cactus League. Overall the starters have now thrown 20 innings without allowing an earned run.

* Tomorrow’s print story is on second baseman Marco Scutaro, who likely won’t make his spring debut this weekend as the Giants had hoped. Scutaro said his back is actually feeling better and he hit off a tee Wednesday for the first time in camp, but it’s still not "where we want it to be."

Scutaro dealt with back pain pretty much all season last year and said it stems from an instability in his right hip. His offseason strengthening program was designed to build up core muscles to hopefully hold the hip in place and allow his back muscles to "fire" like he needs them to when he swings. He said in the past few weeks he has started to feel progress in terms of less pain in his back when he’s sleeping or watching TV, but he’s still exercising caution working back into playing shape.

The notebook tomorrow will be on Dan Runzler, another candidate for the open bullpen jobs, who was a big contributor to the Giants during their 2010 World Series season but stalled out the past few years and posted a 5.68 ERA in Triple-A last year before being designated for assignment. Runzler is back in camp as a non-roster invitee with a fresh outlook on baseball and his career.

* Pablo Sandoval hit his first Cactus League home run Thursday and also made a nice 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."

Sandoval’s was actually the first home run by a Giants regular in eight Cactus League games. The others belong to Ehire Adrianza, Adam Duvall and Mark Minicozzi.

* From this morning, the full list of players reassigned to minor-league camp: pitchers Ty Blach, Clayton Blackburn, Jose Casilla, Kyle Crick, Chris Heston, Rafael Dolis and Sandy Rosario; catchers Jeff Arnold and Ben Turner; infielder Joe Panik and outfielders Javier Herrera and Mac Williamson. Infielder Angel Villalona was also optioned to Triple-A Fresno.

None of those players was going to get the innings or at-bats they needed to prepare for the season in big-league camp. Bochy did say of the cuts: "This group I thought was the best group of young pitchers that we’ve had here, maybe since I’ve been here, as far as throwing strikes, being around the zone and the way they handled themselves. Usually you get three or four, they’re all over the board, a work in progress. But these kids all did a nice job."

* Comical image of the day -- Loe, who’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, and Tim Lincecum, listed at 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, trading uniforms before Thursday morning’s workout. Hunter Pence managed to capture the moment.

* Juan Perez doubled in a run Thursday and is now batting .412 on the spring. Infielder Brandon Hicks, a non-roster invitee, also doubled and is batting .364.

Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo all threw an inning. Romo was the only one to allow a baserunner -- he faced six hitters and allowed one run.