Giants hopeful '23 rotation has enough ‘lines of defense'


With four returning starting pitchers, a top prospect who doesn't look far from his debut and multiple depth options back from last year's roster, nobody really would have blinked if the Giants avoided rotation upgrades this offseason while chasing bigger names.

But in between the failed Aaron Judge pursuit and the end of the Carlos Correa saga, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi added two more veterans to the mix, Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea, both of whom came on two-year deals with the likelihood of opening the 2023 MLB season in the rotation.

The Giants will report to camp in two weeks with six healthy and experienced starting pitching options, which they feel is important. All you have to do is go back to last September to see why so much attention was paid to the rotation over the winter.

Starting on Sept. 6, the Giants used 13 openers over their final 29 games. While they actually did okay in their bullpen games -- they went 7-4 in John Brebbia's 11 "starts," for example -- it was clear there was a cascading effect. 

The bullpen was gassed at times and finished fifth in the majors in innings thrown. A year after leading the majors in ERA, the group finished 20th. On a call with beat reporters late last month, Zaidi said the staff is trying to limit those workloads, and if all six starting pitchers are healthy, the Giants could use some different methods to try and get everyone extra rest. 

"I think it's really going to be a mix. There may be some situations in which we go to a six-man rotation for a period of time," he said. "The drawback of that is you're down to a seven-man 'pen, but if you have rested starters who are going deep into games and you have guys in the bullpen that can throw multiple innings, that can help mitigate that. I think there will be times we do that, there will be times when we tandem guys and try to use two of our starters to get through an entire game and give the rest of the 'pen a day off. 

"That's something we've heard a lot from our relievers over the last couple of years is there's just a lot of value -- and it's kind of intuitive -- in games where pretty much the entire 'pen has the day off. If you can have a guy throw five innings and then a guy come in behind him and throw the final four, that's huge, that's huge for the entire bullpen. This isn't a strategy or matching up type of thing as much as it is a load management thing, and a way to keep everybody healthy."

The Giants should be particularly prepared for a tandem or piggyback strategy, given their current personnel. For the first time in a while, they seem set to carry a true long reliever -- Jakob Junis -- throughout the season. Sam Long and Sean Hjelle both could start the season in Triple-A as depth options who can go multiple innings when they're needed in the big leagues.

If all goes according to plan, one of the veteran starters also could be sitting with the relievers every night. Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood both are healthy and already throwing bullpen sessions heading into camp, but one could be headed for the bullpen if there are no hiccups in Scottsdale. 

These logjams often have a way of working themselves out in March, as the Giants were reminded in 2021. Logan Webb was the best pitcher in camp that spring but entered the competition behind five veterans after the late addition of Aaron Sanchez. An injury to Wood put Webb in the rotation anyway, and while Webb did briefly move back to the bullpen when Wood returned in April, he ultimately became the team's No. 1 starter by the end of the year. 

Something similar could occur this year if Kyle Harrison lives up to the hype. Giants people who have seen Harrison working out recently are expecting a huge spring, but barring a disaster on the big league roster, he'll start the season in Triple-A with the promise that he can pitch his way to the big leagues relatively quickly.

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After years of waiting for help from the farm system, the hope is that waves are starting to arrive at Oracle Park. The Giants also added Tristan Beck and Keaton Winn to the 40-man roster over the winter, and they're confident they've built up enough depth to withstand the usual injuries and absences of a 162-game season. 

"I think back to last year and the strain that it causes, both on the field and in the clubhouse and the front office, when you've got an injury and you literally don't have anybody to start an upcoming game," Zaidi said. "You've got to start thinking about a bullpen game or selecting somebody to the roster that you hadn't really thought of before.

"Those things can really be taxing, and to put yourself in a situation where you have lines of defense before you get in that situation, that was part of the reason why we added multiple starters to a pretty full group as it is."

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