I have repeatedly touted the value of the San Francisco Giants’ starting pitching this spring. Five All-Stars! I keep bleating. Five All-Stars! That’s an amazing assembly of talent. Imagine what would happen if they were to actually step up and have a banner year. Great success, I would say. However, what would happen if one were unable to assert his way back into All-Star form, and Bruce Bochy were forced to break up this unit? What if that player were Ryan Vogelsong, and Bochy decided to begin the season with Vogelsong in the bullpen, and a different fifth starter? Should we be worried?
To begin I am not advocating this approach. We have seen some amazing performances from this iron-faced, gritty Giant, and I don’t understand what it is that would have to have occurred, in order for Vogelsong to have gone downhill so fast. I don’t think last year’s injury is a factor, but I don’t know that. I do know that he has been working on his mechanics-his delivery for one thing this spring. I also know that working on mechanics is exactly what he should be doing. So I should not be worried about anything that occurs this spring, should I?
In working on his delivery, what if the number of hits allowed balloons upwards, and his ERA should happen to follow suit? We still shouldn’t be worried, should we? Wouldn’t poor stats be the natural result of tinkering? And haven’t we established that tinkering is what the desert is all about? We wouldn’t be especially thrilled to see tinkering at AT&T, would we? No, deserts are good for tinkering, because you can leave all the mess behind, and arrive in San Francisco, ready for action, ready for danger, ready to assume the fifth spot in the rotation.
Now that we’ve established all of this groundwork, I’m going back to the original “What if?” question concerning Vogelsong’s (I have never been able to call him “Vogie”) readiness for the season, or possible lack of same. What if he can’t answer the call once the strains of the Star Spangled Banner have faded away? The fact is that the Giants must be prepared for that contingency, the same as they had to contend with a broken pinkie finger last season.
With spring training cuts having been in full swing all week, we are still waiting to see the final roster. Still on board are Yusmeiro Petit and David Huff, both fighting for the long-relief role that Chad Gaudin filled so admirably last year. The left-handed Huff is especially intriguing to me because of his length of service with the Cleveland Indians, and because he was penciled in as the fifth starter for the New York Yankees. I can’t help but think that another southpaw pitching in AT&T Park can’t be a bad thing.
And Yusmeiro Petit makes it that much harder to decide. I do not want to put too much stock in that game he pitched last September, in which he came within a strike of throwing a Perfecto. I don’t want to put too much into that game, but I keep doing it. I keep going back to that game and shaking my head in wonder that we even have to think about whether or not he has earned the right to pitch every fifth day. I know there is a certain amount of luck that accompanies an accomplishment of this nature, but there must be a tremendous amount of skill also. I just think he has some great potential.
Both Petit and Huff pitched in last Saturday’s game against the Oakland A’s, and both had their longest and most productive stints of the spring. Petit went four, allowing no runs, on two hits, walking none and striking out seven. Huff worked three perfect innings. It’s only one game, but it was against those pesky A’s, and it’s hard to combine for seven innings of two-hit ball against any team.
Ryan Vogelsong is a savage who has earned the right to assume his role as fifth starter is secure. Vogelsong also recognizes that all players must produce to remain in the starting lineup. I wonder if my good friend, Sky Emerson, is correct when he suggests that “Vogelsong had a nice year and a half in a late career resurgence, but in reality he is the pitcher he’s been for 90% of his career, not the one he was during that brief stretch.” Either Vogelsong produces, or he would be the last guy on Earth to expect his spot to remain his. That’s the way it works, All-Star or not. Huff or Petit-or even recently-sent-down Edwin Escobar-take your pick.
So Ryan Vogelsong needs to get his WHIP in place or face the hook. It’s nothing personal; it’s business. Bochy is in the business of winning baseball games and for Vogelsong to be a part of that, he must contribute in a positive way. Otherwise, all we will hear from Ryan is his swan song.