SAN FRANCISCO -- Kevin Pillar was emotional on his way out of Toronto earlier this month, and most of the attention will be on the center fielder as the Giants play two with the young Blue Jays. But the trip to the Rogers Centre will be just as meaningful for another Giant, albeit in a much different way.
From the moment the Blue Jays took him in the seventh round in 2015, lefty Travis Bergen dreamed of playing in Toronto. He never even visited the city while with the organization, always stuck rehabbing or working his way through the low minors. But he'll be in the bullpen tonight, having won a job this spring and shown enough promise through his first month that the Giants have kept the Rule 5 pick around.
"It's going to be pretty cool," Bergen said. "I guess I envisioned myself playing in the big leagues with them when I was drafted, and the opportunity that I got here (with the Giants) has been something that I never would have dreamed of."
That opportunity never came in Toronto because of injuries. Bergen pitched just 59 times in the minors before the Giants scooped him up in the December Rule 5 Draft, impressed by his eye-popping numbers and a fastball that's deceptive despite sitting around 90 mph.
So far it looks like a solid evaluation. Bergen made the club with a big spring, and although he returns to Toronto with a 7.11 ERA, he mostly has pitched well. Bergen allowed two homers and four runs in one outing against the Nationals but otherwise has allowed just one run since making the leap from Double-A.
Pitching coach Curt Young said Bergen is working on a changeup in bullpen sessions, but so far he has been a two-pitch guy. He throws a good curveball 30 percent of the time and his fastball 70 percent. It's not overpowering by any means, but hitters have always had a hard time squaring it up.
"He has good arm speed and sells it well, and he gets good spin on the baseball," Young said of the fastball. "It's the true perfect elevation of a fastball. He throws it up in the zone really well."
Bergen said he hasn't gotten too deep into the analytics of why his two pitches work, preferring to focus on how to prepare as a big leaguer. He spends plenty of time learning from the veterans in the bullpen, and he singled out Mark Melancon as one player who has helped him learn how to set up hitters.
This Giants bullpen, with veteran lefties like Will Smith and Tony Watson alongside Melancon, Sam Dyson and others, is a hell of a place for a young pitcher to learn. But that could change this summer. Smith and Watson will be trade chips, and Bergen could soon find himself in high-pressure spots with a lefty at the plate.
For now, manager Bruce Bochy is easing him in, but he said he doesn't see Bergen as a specialist. He has the equipment to get lefties and righties out, and the Giants are more than pleased with their pick.
"You look at what he had to go through this spring, the pressure on these guys as a Rule 5 pick," Bochy said. "You have to make the club or go back, and he performed really well. I think it says a lot about the kid and his makeup."