Giants reliever Derek Law remembers being in a jam. It was his junior year at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, a playoff game, and Law was locked in a late pitchers’ duel.
“I think it might’ve been like the eighth inning, bases loaded, no outs. That was the first time I actually had butterflies on the mound,” Law said. “I was like, ‘Oh man.’ I took a step off, took a deep breath.”
“That was actually the only time I’ve gotten butterflies on the mound.”
Law said this Monday afternoon, 10 days after his major-league debut in the seventh inning at Dodger Stadium against the heart of the Dodgers’ order. In between, the right-hander made three appearances, facing such esteemed hitters as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt and the Miami Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, giving up four hits but striking out six and not allowing a run.
Law escaped that high school jam unscathed, too, though he couldn’t recall the exact details.
“To be honest, he probably struck the next three guys out,” said Shawn Trainor, varsity coach at Seton LaSalle Catholic. “He may not have. (But) I find that hard to believe he was actually nervous. I didn’t see it in him. He never seemed nervous.”
The Giants value that kind of poise in young players just called up from the minors, their bullpen providing a good example. With veteran relievers Sergio Romo and George Kontos sidelined by flexor tendon strains, the Giants have four pitchers in the bullpen – Law, Mike Broadway, Steven Okert and Josh Osich – who made their major-league debuts within the past 10 months.
Two years ago, manager Bruce Bochy memorably produced his son Brett’s major-league debut by bringing him in to pitch in the middle of an inning with the bases loaded. While Bochy jokes that night eliminated any notions of favoritism, it also illustrated how the Giants expect players to arrive in the majors ready for high-pressure situations.
“We take the kid gloves off,” Bochy said recently, talking about the bullpen. “They’re professionals. They have experience. It may not be major-league experience, but experience of coming in (to pitch) in tough situations.
“It’s a great way to find out about them, how they’re going to handle it, what’s their poise like, are they going to be able to deal with these types of situations, because they’re going to come up a lot. And that’s when you need these guys.”
The potential downside of that strategy showed Monday night, in the eighth inning of the Giants’ 5-4 win over the San Diego Padres. Missing two key right-handers, Bochy turned to Hunter Strickland with a three-run lead. Strickland allowed hits to three of the four batters he faced, and Law came in and gave up an RBI single to his one hitter before Osich and closer Santiago Casilla recorded consecutive strikeouts to preserve the one-run lead.
“These kids are going to have hiccups,” Bochy said afterward. “We have the guys that have the weapons. They have the makeup to handle it. They’ll learn from all this. This is good experience for them to pitch in these tight games.”
Law, a ninth-round draft pick in 2011, said players are told coming up through the Giants’ system of the team’s willingness to promote and incorporate younger players at the major-league level. Before Monday’s game, he said it’s “kind of nice” to watch Bochy trust players despite their inexperience.
“It gives you a sense of belonging here, I would say,” Law said. “You’re getting called up for a reason. It’s not just to be here.”
Law nearly made the Giants’ roster out of spring training in 2014 – despite never having pitched above Class A at that point – but suffered an elbow injury that June that required a Tommy John-style reconstruction of his ulnar collateral ligament. He returned to pitching at Double-A Richmond last June, began this season with the River Cats, was called up to replace Romo on April 15 and later that night jogged in from the bullpen to face Adrian Gonzalez for his first major-league hitter.
“It was like a blur until afterward,” Law said of his debut. “Then I was like, ‘Oh, that really just happened. That happened in the big leagues.’ ”
On the opposite coast, Trainor, his high school coach who was watching on TV, thought that Law “oozed confidence.”
“My son was there,” Trainor said. “He said Derek told him he was a little nervous warming up in the bullpen. But once he got out on the mound, he wasn’t nervous.”
Trainor recalled another game Law pitched in high school – the first start his senior season. Under the watchful eyes and radar guns of about 15 major-league scouts, in the cold of an early Pittsburgh spring, Trainor said, Law threw a no-hitter.
“He’s never cocky or anything. He’s just confident in himself,” Trainor said. “That’s just Derek.”