How Giants will handle pitching staff after losing two starters

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Giants have new plan after losing two starters in three days originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

On the surface, it's kind of a disaster. 

The Giants have struggled to get consistency from their rotation throughout the second half, and over the course of 72 hours this week they put two veteran starters on the IL -- one with COVID-19 and one with an elbow strain. They did so as the calendar turned to September and the Dodgers finally caught them in the division race. 

Their sixth starter going into the season, Logan Webb, is now their ace. Their next best backup plan, Tyler Beede, is done for the year. Their best pitching prospects mostly are a couple years away, and their Triple-A rotation is stocked with guys in their mid-thirties who were pretty recently pitching in Mexico or independent leagues. 

Disaster, right? Not for this group.

The Giants might be better positioned to bullpen their way through a month than any team this side of the Tampa Bay Rays, and they're going to try it, at least for a couple of weeks. After losing 40 percent of his rotation, Gabe Kapler projected nothing but optimism.

"I think it's something that we've seen good teams do," he said Wednesday afternoon. "It's something that -- because we have an expanded roster at this point and because we have guys that are capable of taking down innings both here and at Triple-A -- I think we need to explore it for the time being in those spots."

Kapler did not want to put labels on this. He sees no reason to refer to "spot starters" or "openers" or "bullpen games." It's pretty simple, really

"We're just going to try to cover games with a bunch of arms," he said. 

Ironically, this is something Kapler might have tried more often last season under different circumstances. During summer camp last year he introduced the idea of "bulk innings" guys, a role that Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly and Tyler Anderson seemed suited for. Gausman's first appearance as a Giant actually spanned the third through sixth innings of a game. 

This current staff has some similar options, most notably former All-Star starter José Quintana -- who pitched 3 1/3 dominant innings in his Giants debut -- and fellow lefty Sammy Long. Just about everyone in the 'pen can go multiple innings, and Jarlin Garcia and Zack Littell have made relief appearances of nine-plus outs over the past month. 

The Giants also will be helped by simply being themselves. They churn their roster on a daily basis, and with so many options at Triple-A, it's possible -- likely even -- that a new pitcher is brought in every day or two. 

One benefit of not having locked-in starters is that those are two rotation spots that can open up on a daily basis rather than a team waiting for the starter's next turn to come. For instance, a Caleb Baragar or John Brebbia could be swapped for a Kervin Castro or Camilo Doval if a fresh arm is needed. 

This is baseball in 2021, and the Giants know it can work because the two other teams that stand right alongside them at the top of the MLB standings are doing it. The AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays (84-50) have had nine different pitchers make at least five starts and 12 different pitchers record a save. They have thrown out traditional pitching roles and are thriving. The Los Angeles Dodgers came into the season with so much depth that David Price ended up in their bullpen, but they lost Dustin May to Tommy John, Tony Gonsolin to shoulder woes, and Trevor Bauer to legal issues. They have had 19 different players make a start and 13 of their pitchers have started and come out of the bullpen this season. 

The Giants are going to try this with a bullpen that leads the Majors in ERA since June 1, a big reason Kapler is confident the team will be just fine. Given how dominant some of his relievers have been in recent months, they might actually thrive. 

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"I feel like we have enough volume and we have enough talent in our bullpen to manage these kinds of games," Kapler said. "Does every team wish they had five healthy, strong starters all the time? Absolutely, and I think we're no different. 

"We have one starting pitcher who's on the COVID IL and we have another who is now on the IL with a sore elbow, so we understand that this is not a strategy play, it's a necessity play, and it's one that we feel confident we can navigate as a group."

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