Keaton Winn

Giants searching for pitching answers as Winn's struggles continue

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- As he finished his pregame media session on Saturday, Giants manager Bob Melvin looked out at the field in search of counterpart Bruce Bochy. The Texas Rangers dugout was empty, but a few minutes later, Bochy came out and scanned the turf at Globe Life Field for Melvin. Finally, the two connected behind the cage. 

Melvin and Bochy have been going back and forth for two decades, with wine occasionally changing hands after Giants-Athletics matchups. They stood and talked for about 15 minutes, and at times it looked like both simply needed to vent. During a three-game series in Arlington, it was easy to see the gripes each might have.

Bochy spent three straight days talking at length about his lineup, which has been banged-up but also has underperformed for more than two months. On Sunday, the Rangers finally broke through, scoring five early runs and cruising to a 7-2 victory, one that exposed Melvin's biggest issue at the moment. 

The Giants were supposed to be built around strong pitching and good defense, but they rank 25th in the majors in ERA. Keaton Winn raised that figure Sunday, allowing seven earned runs in his return from a forearm strain.

There's some irony to the current situation. The Giants listened to their fan base when it comes to openers or bullpen games, and the new coaching staff doesn't really want to do them either. But right now, they're finding success with the Erik Miller-Spencer Howard duo in one rotation spot. 

Melvin is waiting for Blake Snell to return, hopefully sometime this month, and Robbie Ray isn't far behind in his rehab from Tommy John surgery. At some point in the second half, Alex Cobb should be an option. For now, they will lean on Winn in a rotation spot and hope for better days. 

"It's too early to talk about that for me," Melvin said when asked if Winn could pitch in a bulk innings role. "There has been some success, but doing it multiple times (in the rotation)? It's probably tough to do, especially back-to-back games, but we do have an off day coming up as well, after the three against Houston. We'll see where it goes."

The staff does not need to look too far back to see how trust can pay off. Winn was brilliant over his final three starts in April, but in four starts since, he has allowed 24 runs. The trouble started right away Sunday. His first pitch back from the IL hit Rangers leadoff hitter Marcus Semien on the helmet.

"That definitely rattled me a little bit," Winn admitted. 

The Rangers scored three runs in the inning, the third one coming across on a double steal. Semien blasted a two-run homer in the second and it was all downhill from there. 

Winn will go back to the drawing board. He said he didn't throw enough splitters Sunday, and his fastball velocity also was down a tick. He was mostly 94-95 mph, topping out at 96 mph, although that was partly by design in his first start back from an arm injury. 

"I'm not super worried about that," Winn said. "Obviously I wasn't trying to max out on the gun today. I'm trying to be smart about that side of things." 

Given the weakness of the National League in general, the Giants can afford to be a bit patient. If Winn can find his April form, they'll be in much better shape, and he said he'll dig into the numbers over the next few days to see if he can find a fix before facing the Los Angeles Angels next weekend. 

Ray is close to returning to the Bay Area to make rehab starts with the San Jose Giants and Sacramento River Cats. Snell will throw off a mound when the Giants return home, and he also could soon be on the rehab start trail. The Giants had Winn make one rehab start, hopeful he could iron some things out. He felt good in the bullpen and during that appearance, but it didn't translate. 

"You try to get him a rehab (start) so that when he makes a start he's prepared for it," Melvin said. "Obviously the command wasn't great there early in the game and they got some hits off him early and had him on the run. Five runs after two innings, that kind of puts us in a little bit of a hole, but I expect him to be better next time."

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