Giants reliever Josh Osich, an avid hunter and fisherman, spent 10 days this offseason in rural Montana hunting mule deer in sub-freezing temperatures with a bow and arrow.
“I passed up a bunch of good deer,” Osich said, “but there was a monster I was chasing.”
Osich said he got within 100 yards of his quarry at one point. But that was out of range for his bow. It’s one reason Osich said he started hunting with a bow a few years ago – he likes the challenge of having to get close. This time, the wind was blowing the wrong direction for a good shot, and the deer wandered away.
This spring in Scottsdale the weather is a lot warmer and the prize that Osich is chasing appears less elusive. The 27-year-old is trying to crack his first Opening Day roster. And while it isn’t guaranteed, Osich’s 2.20 ERA in 35 games for the Giants last season makes him a frontrunner to return to their bullpen, where there is a vacancy for a left-hander following the retirement of Jeremy Affeldt last fall.
Affeldt was a well-respected and gregarious presence for the Giants and his leadership in the clubhouse is more likely to be taken up by other members of the “core four” relief group that took part in the Giants’ past three World Series, such as Javier Lopez and Santiago Casilla. Even so, Osich said, with Affeldt not around this spring: “You don’t really have somebody joking around in the clubhouse so much. When he walked in the room, you knew somebody was going to get a joke played on him or something.”
Where Osich, who is nearly stoic by comparison, appears better fit to replace Affeldt is in terms of situational use. Osich is a hard-throwing lefty whose average fastball of 95.7 mph was the second-highest among Giants pitchers in 2015, according to FanGraphs. And Giants manager Bruce Bochy showed a willingness last season to use Osich against right- and left-handed hitters, just as he did with Affeldt. Osich actually held righties to a lower batting average (.213) than lefties (.222) in his 28 2/3 innings.
“When I came up last year, I was pitching when (Affeldt) was hurt, and I was pitching in his situations,” Osich said. “I feel like that’s where they want me to be. I think they put me in there to see what I could do, and I think I proved myself.”
Before last season, Osich feels, he was held back from doing so fully by an inability to stay healthy. The Giants drafted the Boise, Idaho, native in the sixth round in 2011, a year after he had Tommy John surgery while at Oregon State. Osich recorded a 3.06 ERA in the minors but said he dealt with a series of injuries that cut each of his seasons short. Last spring, he seriously considered walking away from baseball.
“I just didn’t feel like my career was advancing at all because I was always hurt,” Osich said. “I told myself I would make the big leagues last year or it was over.”
Osich started the season at Double A but pitched his way out of Richmond with a 1.59 ERA in 31 games and shortly thereafter was called up to the Giants, debuting July 3 against the Nationals. He did not allow a run until his eighth appearance, and aside from a brief return to Triple-A Sacramento in late July, he played a significant role in the Giants’ bullpen for the rest of the season.
“I think there was strong belief in his potential,” Giants general manager Bobby Evans said. “But part of it is staying healthy, part of it is getting an opportunity. And I think there were times where he was frustrated. Give him credit because he stayed focused and did what he had to do to get here. And when he did, he made a great impression.”
Osich said he didn’t do anything differently to avoid injury last season. In fact, he added a pitch after a discussion with Richmond pitching coach Steve Kline, picking up a slider-cutter that, unlike his other pitches, moves away from left-handers and inside to righties. Osich, who also throws a sinker and changeup, said the cutter is “probably my worst pitch,” but it gives hitters a different look, and Osich threw it 37 percent of the time while in the majors last year.
Wednesday morning he sat at his locker at Scottsdale Stadium, back for another spring in Giants camp yet in a much different place than a year ago.
“Obviously it’s your dream to play in the big leagues, but besides talent and everything there’s got to be a little bit of luck,” Osich said. “I guess I got my opportunity, and I’m just running with it.”