Jordan Hicks

New Giants flamethrower Hicks fully embraces transition to starter

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Jordan Hicks’ ability to throw a blazing fastball, anywhere from 100 to 105 mph, was his ticket to the big leagues, and landed him at the back end of the St. Louis Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays' bullpens.

“But in the back of my mind, I always wanted to be a starter, and that was always my goal,” Hicks told reporters at Oracle Park on Tuesday in his introductory Giants press conference. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and this is what I’m most excited to do in the big leagues. I’m just ready to get to work and really show what I can do.”

Hicks signed a four-year, $44 million contract to pair with Logan Webb as the anchors of a Giants starting rotation that was in flux for much of the 2023 season.

Unlike last season, when San Francisco often used relievers as openers – a move that put a lot of stress on the bullpen – the Giants expect Hicks to be like any other starting pitcher.

“We’re thinking of Jordan very much as a conventional starter,” Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. “We want him to be in a situation to start games, to have a full starter’s workload, even though it might be a little conservative. Jordan, from a natural talent standpoint, he can do some things with a baseball that very few guys in baseball can do.”

Especially when it comes to bringing the heat.

The 27-year-old right-hander, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow in 2019, is one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in baseball. He was clocked at 105.1 mph during his rookie season in 2018, tying Aroldis Chapman for the fastest pitch in MLB history.

Hicks spent four-plus seasons in St. Louis, primarily working out of the bullpen while notching 28 saves. After being traded to Toronto late last season, Hicks added another four saves to his résumé.

Hicks has pitched in 212 games in the majors, all but eight -- all coming during 2022 -- of them as a reliever.

With the Giants, Hicks is putting his bullpen days behind him and fully embracing his new role as a starter.

“I’m excited just to get the opportunity to at least show what I have and go out there and eat as many innings as I can,” Hicks said. “I know early this season that I’m going in as a starter, so I get to build up my pitch count a little bit earlier.”

Adding pitching help, specifically starters, was a top priority for Zaidi and the Giants this offseason. Webb, the team’s ace last year and an NL Cy Young Award finalist, is the top dog on the staff, but some big question marks behind him remain.

The Giants first traded for 2021 AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray with the Mariners, then signed Hicks last week. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.

Promising young prospect Kyle Harrison certainly should be part of the rotation, and there’s hope that veteran Alex Cobb, a 2023 All-Star, will recover from hip surgery. Ross Stripling, a free-agent acquisition one year ago, also is a possibility.

Hicks almost certainly will be No. 2 or No. 3 in the Giants' rotation and is looking forward to working as a starter again.

Hicks went 0-4 with a 5.47 ERA in his previous eight starts, and is longest outing lasted just five innings. He owns a 3.85 career ERA and never has pitched more than 77 innings in the majors, but last season, while splitting time between the Cardinals and Blue Jays, he had 81 strikeouts and a 3.29 ERA over 65 innings.

So, using Hicks as a starter might not make sense from a purely statistical standpoint, but Zaidi is confident it’s the right move.

“As we’ve followed Jordan’s career, we’ve seen him evolve as a pitcher,” Zaidi said. “Any time you’re talking about this kind of situation, there’s a few factors. One is their experience and their sort of pedigree as a starter. Certainly, Jordan has that from his early time in the minor leagues and some in the big leagues. It’s got to be a desire to do it, which obviously Jordan has.”

The conversion from reliever to starter isn’t unusual in the majors. First-year Giants manager Bob Melvin has experience with it, having done so last season with Seth Lugo in San Diego. Lugo made 26 starts for the Padres and made it through at least five innings 23 times.

“Mindset has a lot to do with it,” Melvin said. “[Lugo] came in, he didn’t want to talk about innings, he didn’t want to talk about pitch count. He goes, 'I’m a starter now, I’m going to go out there as a starter. That’s who I am.’ You look at his numbers last year, less an injury he had in his calf, he was as productive as any starter we had.

"A lot of it has to do with just being motivated to do it and seeing yourself as that and your mindset. You put that together with the stuff that Jordan has, it seems like a really good fit.”

Hicks made it clear during free agency that he wanted to go back to the rotation rather than working out of the bullpen. Whether that scared off potential suitors or not, Hicks declined to say.

The Giants sorely needed a starter, however, and didn’t hesitate to make the move when talks between the sides began.

“It’s always been our goal to have a starting pitching rotation that goes as many innings as possible,” Zaidi said. “That’s why we want to be clear, we view Jordan as a conventional starter, not in some hybrid role. And we believe he can do it.

“Any time you’re talking about increasing workload year over year, there’s going to be checkpoints. Jordan feels confident. We’re going to rely a lot on how he feels as we go through it.”

Hicks said part of the allure of joining the Giants was the opportunity to pitch at Oracle Park, where he owns a 3.38 ERA with 12 strikeouts in eight innings.

“That was a lot of the reason I wanted to come here,” Hicks said. “Just a great place to pitch, even when it’s [with] the opposing team. The fans, they just want to see a good game.”

Zaidi said the Giants plan to continue to be active in free agency and hope to add to their infield if possible.

“Try to upgrade defensively,” Zaidi said. “That was a big part of our pitch to Jordan and other pitchers we’ve talked to.”

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