The San Francisco Giants bullpen has looked good so far, but it is a small sample. While small samples are fun, even better news for the bullpen is that Will Smith should be returning soon.
Smith is a quality reliever. His injury last spring was an underrated part of the Giants forgettable season. Without Smith, the Giants did not have the type of reliever who can be consistently effective against left-handed hitters.
Bruce Bochy likes to play match-ups late in the game, and he needs relievers who can be effective against either handed batters.
However, Smith is not a LOOGY-type reliever. Similar to Jeremy Affeldt, he can pitch a full inning, and is not vulnerable to platoon splits. Unlike Affeldt, he is not prone to sustaining injuries in hilarious and inexplicable ways. Well, that last sentence may not be entirely accurate.
Last season, Smith sustained a serious injury to his UCL nerve thus requiring Tommy John surgery. The recovery time varies for every pitcher. However, a reliever can return to action a bit sooner due to needing less arm strength for the role. Alex Pavlovic notes that Smith is getting close to a rehab assignment:
The good news for Smith is that the Giants bullpen is doing well. Again, a small sample. However, the feel of this year’s bullpen is much improved, for what that is worth. This is good news because the Giants do not need to rush Smith through the rehab process.
The better news is that the bullpen currently has two left-handed relievers in Tony Watson and Josh Osich. Watson has looked lights out, while Osich has looked great in two of his three appearances. If both continue to be effective, the Giants will be able to slow-play Smith once he rejoins the roster.
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The Giants may not need Will Smith to be a closer or a set-up man this season. He has the potential to fill either role, but he may not need to this season. Regardless, they will need him healthy and effective, especially considering that Mark Melancon may not return anytime soon.
Smith’s value lies not only in being left-handed, but having swing-and-miss stuff as well. For his career, Smith has averaged over a strikeout an inning. This is an important part of his game.
There is nothing wrong with a pitch-to-contact approach. However, there are times when a pitcher needs to strike a hitter out. That can be a role Smith fills as he rebuilds arm strength and stamina.
The good news is Smith does not need to have a high-leverage role upon returning from injury. Osich and Watson can fill these roles out. This leaves Smith with ample opportunities to pitch in lower-leverage spots. He can pitch in higher leverage spots if both Osich and Watson are unavailable.
The welcomed addition of Watson, and hopeful re-emergence of Osich have bought the Giants some time with Smith. Regardless of his role, Smith will be a big part of the bullpen this season. He just may get a little extra time to prepare.