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With Snell sidelined, Giants bullpen again struggles to fill gaps

With Snell sidelined, Giants bullpen again struggles to fill gaps originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants were used to piecing their way through bullpen games the last few seasons, but over the winter, the front office committed significant resources to upgrade the rotation. The plan was to make bullpen games, openers and bulk-innings arms a thing of the past, but Blake Snell’s injury led to some scrambling this week.

In their 26th game, the Giants finally turned all nine over to the bullpen. They lost 8-2 to the New York Mets in a game that further exposed what has been a glaring weakness over this first month.

When he can rely on Camilo Doval, the Rogers Twins and Ryan Walker, Bob Melvin is in great shape. Erik Miller has shown flashes of entrenching himself in that circle of trust, and the hope is that Luke Jackson gets back there pretty quickly now that he’s fully healthy.

But when Melvin has had to turn to the bottom of his bullpen, games have gotten away from the Giants — and done so quickly. On Friday, Snell’s last start, three rookie relievers combined to give up 10 runs. On Wednesday, without Snell, the Mets scored six runs off Sean Hjelle and Landen Roupp to pull away, and added a two-run blast off newcomer Mitch White in his Giants debut.

The lineup didn’t look capable Wednesday of mounting a comeback anyway, especially after they failed to capitalize on Sean Manaea loading the bases with no outs in the second inning. But too often, the bullpen has kept comebacks from even being realistic.

"That's been a problem," Melvin said. "We give up too many runs in games that we're not using key guys. Those guys just have to pitch better. They're going to be out there for a while -- now today is a tough day in the fact that basically everybody down there knows that they're going to pitch, but you need contributions from everybody. You're trying to minimize how many times you face certain guys in the order.

"With Hjelle and Roupper, it just got away from us a little bit, and the next thing you know, it's an uphill battle."

The Giants will need to figure out that part of the bullpen, but they likely won't need to run another full bullpen game anytime soon. They plan to stick someone in Snell's rotation slot on the next road trip, and it really can only go uphill at this point.

Through five games -- three from Snell, one from Daulton Jefferies and the bullpen game on Wednesday -- the Giants have been outscored 55-12 when that rotation spot comes around.

Snell was hopeful he could end that run of poor performances on Wednesday. He said he was excited about tweaks he made after his last start and felt he was poised to return to form, but his groin acted up during his bullpen session.

Snell has had this happen twice before, in both 2021 and 2022. He missed 3-4 weeks during those injuries but said this latest one isn't as severe. He hopes to be back soon after he becomes eligible on May 8, although there might be another complication. His first child is due a little over a week later.

Whenever he returns, Snell is confident he'll be closer to his 2023 self. The Giants could certainly use that, and given some of their specific bullpen issues, they could use some length, too.

"I'm obviously disappointed," Snell said of the injury. "I felt really good this week throwing. Even during the bullpen I was like, 'Man, I feel really good. The ball is coming out good.' I made some adjustments that I think are going to be big for me and get swing-and-miss on a couple of the pitches that I was throwing that weren't getting that.

"Overall, I was pretty excited about what I was going to be able to do today if I pitched. Having that (injury) was pretty upsetting, but now I have to change my focus to getting back healthy and getting back to pitching."

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