SAN JOSE — Giants right-hander Tristan Beck laughed when he recalled the two saves he recorded as a rookie last season. One of them came in Milwaukee when he threw 3 1/3 shutout innings to steer home a 15-1 victory. The other came at Dodger Stadium when he tossed the final four innings in a 15-0 blowout.
“You know me,” Beck said. “I’m all about the high-leverage innings.”
Now it’s time to get serious about it. The Giants will place plenty of leverage on Beck this season. And Keaton Winn. And Kyle Harrison.
Although there’s still a chance that the Giants will augment their rotation through free agency before players report to Scottsdale, Ariz. in two weeks, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has signaled his confidence in the depth and talent level of his current group of pitchers. And that group, at least to begin the season, is going to be on the green side.
The Giants won’t have left-hander Robbie Ray (total left elbow reconstruction) until after the All-Star break. They won’t have right-hander Alex Cobb (hip labrum surgery) until June at the earliest. Even if both veteran pitchers avoid setbacks in their rehab process, the Giants will be well entrenched in the NL West standings by the time they are ready to ride over the hill with bugles blaring. Until then, it’ll be up to the Giants’ less established pitchers — the group that made their debuts last season, and potentially others including Carson Whisenhunt and Mason Black who are knocking on the door — to keep the Giants in contention.
Beck is eager for the challenge.
“It means a lot and I think it’s exciting,” said Beck, who attended the Giants’ Fanfest tour stop in San Jose’s San Pedro Market on Saturday. “It keeps all of us motivated to get out there and compete for a spot. We’re a tight knit group and we obviously debuted a lot of rookies last year. I think it’s going to keep the energy up, having a lot of young guys fighting for spots, all of us with some experience from last year.
“All of us were happy to be there last year but now I think we’re all looking to take that next step. We’re all pulling for each other and I can’t wait to get started.”
How reliant will the Giants be on their young pitching? Here’s one way to look at it. Between trading Anthony DeSclafani and losing Sean Manaea, Alex Wood and Jakob Junis to free agency, plus having Cobb on the injured list to start the season, the Giants will be subtracting a ton of their bulk innings from last season. That group of five accounted for 38 percent of their innings thrown and 44 percent of their games started last season.
Of course, last season wasn’t typical by any stretch. Other than Cobb and Logan Webb, who led the major leagues with 216 innings, the Giants didn’t have a conventional rotation. Their use of tandem starters and openers meant that nobody other than Cobb and Webb exceeded 120 innings pitched. That’s expected to change under new manager Bob Melvin and pitching coach Bryan Price, who favors more conventional usage patterns.
Not long after he was hired in October, Price described his basic philosophy as “letting starters pitch the innings.”
“To see a major-league team be consistently good over the long term, you need to have depth in the rotation and have pitchers beyond your No. 1 or 2 that are capable of throwing more than five innings, that are hungry and that are allowed to continue into the sixth, seventh, eighth innings when they’re on and pitching well,” Price said during a Q&A with The Athletic. “The only way to do that is to get them stretched out to where it’s reasonable to be out there with 110 or 115 pitches. You can’t ask that of a young guy who hasn’t thrown more than 80 or 85 pitches. It’s just not realistic. There’s times in a season when your bullpen is beat up and your starter that day has to be ready to take on a larger workload. You may need those seven innings and 120 pitches. You need your starters to be ready for that.”
Beck and Harrison agree: That’s precisely what they’ve been training this offseason to do.
“That’s definitely cool,” Harrison said on Saturday. “Those jobs are up for grabs right now. That’s what all of us are shooting for, Tristan and Keaton and myself. We all want to go six innings and give the team the best chance to win. That’s what this offseason has been all about — build up this body to be ready for that.”
— SFGiants (@SFGiants) January 28, 2024
Beck spent all winter in San Francisco, aside from a surfing trip to Costa Rica in November, working out at Oracle Park. Harrison parked himself at the Giants’ minor-league complex at Papago Park in Arizona. Harrison also joined up with Webb to work out at Peak Performance to focus on specific movement patterns. He started throwing off a mound a bit earlier than usual.
Harrison isn’t taking anything for granted and says his first goal in the spring will be to make the opening-day rotation. But there’s no reason to believe he’ll start anyplace else. Not only is he ranked as the game’s 23rd best prospect by MLB.com and 26th best by Baseball America, and considered the Giants’ best pitching prospect since Madison Bumgarner, but he retained his rookie status heading into 2024 — he finished last season four days short of the service time threshold and 15 1/3 innings short of the limit for rookie pitchers — and that means the Giants stand to benefit if he begins 2024 on the opening-day roster and has a banner season. The Giants would get a Prospect Promotion Incentive draft pick after the first round in 2025 if Harrison wins the NL Rookie of the Year Award. The same incentive exists if shortstop Marco Luciano begins on the opening-day roster and wins the award.
Assuming Harrison and Luciano are on the opening-day roster, they also could net the Giants a PPI pick in 2025 or ’26 if they finish top-3 in Cy Young or MVP balloting in either season (although teams are limited to one PPI bonus pick per season).
“Hell yeah, we’re going for it,” Harrison said. “That’s honestly really cool. That’s good motivation. Hopefully Luciano is thinking the same thing. If all the rookies are thinking that way, we’ll be pretty tough to beat.”
Harrison, 22, met Price at a coffeeshop last week and talked pitching philosophies for more than an hour. He’s hesitant to say that he’s looking forward to being used in a more conventional sense than last year — as he views it, last season wasn’t unconventional as much as it was a reaction to a unique set of circumstances — but he said he aligns with Price’s outlook on letting starters pitch deeper into games.
So does Beck, who pitched out of his comfort zone in a swingman role after being used exclusively as a starter in the minor leagues.
“It was an interesting year,” Beck said. “I chalk it up to, ‘I’m a rookie, what do I really know?’ I was just trying to keep my head above water. So we’ll see how it goes this time.
“You want to give your team the best opportunity to win and that’s often by going to the bullpen earlier. But there’s also something to be said for having your stable — those five pitchers who can get out there and eat up the innings. I think it helps with fan engagement having a stable roster of starters you know you’ll be able to rally behind. And you help your bullpen guys like Taylor Rogers, Tyler Rogers, Camilo Doval, to be as dominant and as rested as they can be.
“I’m definitely a bit of a baseball purist in that sense. I love for a starting pitcher to get through five, hopefully seven, and hand it over to the boys in the bullpen.”
And yes, that includes games against a Dodgers lineup that will feature Shohei Ohtani in addition to Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and the rest.
“Sounds like it’ll be fun,” Harrison said. “I think it’ll look really good to get them out. Anyone here will tell you that you can’t be scared. We’re not going to be scared or back down. They’re just like anyone else. They’ll make outs as well. So why not?
“It seems like a lot of people don’t think too highly of us. But that’s cool. We can go out there and prove people wrong, show them how we can pitch.”
Based on how their roster looks with two weeks until spring training begins, the Giants are counting on it. Their young pitchers will have to record an unofficial save in April, May and beyond. Beck would enjoy that far more than picking up the official ones.
“Oh, no, no,” Beck said. “We’ve got this guy named Camilo Doval, remember? I’ll let him pick up those.”