Not three weeks into the season, the Giants’ bullpen already has a markedly different makeup than it did Opening Day.
Before Tuesday night’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Giants promoted relievers Mike Broadway and Steven Okert from the River Cats to replace Chris Heston, who was optioned to Sacramento, and George Kontos, who went on the disabled list because of a strained flexor tendon in his right elbow.
Kontos’ injury is the same one that landed setup man Sergio Romo on the disabled list late last week. Derek Law was called up to replace Romo, meaning the Giants’ bullpen now includes three pitchers who started the season in Triple A. The moves came one day after the bullpen allowed five runs in an 11-inning, 9-7 loss to the Diamondbacks, a game the Giants led by four in the middle innings.
Heston, who allowed the go-ahead runs in the 11th inning Monday, was sent down after struggling to adapt to a long-relief role. The right-hander allowed six runs in five innings in four appearances this season. Manager Bruce Bochy said Heston will return to starting games in Triple A.
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“The kid did such a great job for us last year,” Bochy said. “It’s been a tough go for him early, and I think it’s best for him to pitch every fifth day and start.”
Bochy said he believes Heston, who was 12-11 in 31 starts for the Giants last season, has the ability to be a good long reliever but “sometimes it just takes awhile to learn that (role).” A main difference is pitching on an erratic schedule – Heston pitched just once in the Giants’ first eight games before appearing in back-to-back games against the Colorado Rockies – compared to the routine of starting.
“It’s going to be a little easier once he gets back to being who he is,” Bochy said, “commanding the fastball and getting all his pitches over.”
While Broadway appeared in 21 games for the Giants last season, recording a 5.19 ERA, Okert, a 24-year-old left-hander, arrived Tuesday prepared to make his major-league debut. Bochy said both pitchers are capable of throwing multiple innings, covering up the Giants’ current lack of a designated long reliever.
Kontos, meanwhile, has become one of the Giants’ most reliable relievers. He appeared in 73 games last season with a 2.33 ERA and eight of the first 13 games this year despite elbow discomfort he said began in spring training. Kontos said the soreness increased after his April 15 outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers and had an MRI that showed the flexor strain.
On a positive note, Kontos, who had Tommy John ligament surgery in 2009, said the MRI showed no ligament damage.
“Could I go out there and pitch still? Yes,” Kontos said. “But I think it was better to say something and get it looked at so we can address it properly and not have it be more than just the 15 days I think I’m going to miss.”
Even with a depleted bullpen Monday, the Giants were one strike from a win when closer Santiago Casilla allowed a tying homer to Jake Lamb in the ninth for his second blown save this season. On Tuesday, Bochy said Casilla made “one mistake” in the inning and voiced support for the closer.
“There’s nothing wrong with him. His stuff is what it normally is,” Bochy said. “I don’t see our problem being our closer. I think he’s going to be fine.”
Bochy now must build the bridge to Casilla differently than when the season began. But he also expressed confidence in the new pieces.
“It’s never easy to replace two important pieces of your bullpen like Romo and Kontos,” Bochy said. “But you can’t get stressed about it. You’ve got to look at who you’re bringing up, and hopefully they look at this as an opportunity to show what they can do.”