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Runzler hopes to pitch his way into a role

Runzler hopes to pitch his way into a role

Runzler hopes to pitch his way into a role
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Dan Runzler's future with the Giants is as a starting pitcher. Unless he becomes a long reliever. Or a lefty-on-lefty specialist. Or a setup man.

Possibilities abound for Runzler, who has two enviable assets: youth (he turns 26 on March 30) and a lively arm. The Giants aren't certain what role suits Runzler's aptitude the most. So they're attempting to use him as often as possible this spring in multiple-inning stints -- stretch him out, in baseball parlance -- to give him the opportunity to develop his repertoire of pitches.

If Runzler proves incapable of doing much more than overpower hitters, chances are he'll remain a reliever. If he shows a deft touch with off-speed deliveries, the Giants might consider turning him into a starter.

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"They're testing my versatility, and that's nice," Runzler said Wednesday. "They trust my stuff that much and they want to see where it takes me."

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Perhaps the most significant precedent for this type of project, at least in recent Giants history, involved Russ Ortiz. The right-hander amassed 47 saves in his first two professional seasons before becoming a starter and posting a 63-40 record from 1999-2002.

A good arm is a terrible thing to waste. The Giants believe that their patience with Runzler will help them avoid squandering his talent.

"[We're] trying to make sure we get all his pitches thrown and get him on the mound enough so he can continue to develop and not just pigeonhole him as a one-inning-throw-as-hard-as-you-can guy," Giants vice president of player personnel Dick Tidrow said. "Extending his innings and making him use all his pitches will help him do whatever he's going to do."

The Giants aren't close to determining Runzler's immediate pitching future.

"We still have a long time," he said. "That's their decision. Whatever they want me to do, I'm good to do."

Runzler may have kept the range of possibilities wide open by pitching 2 1/3 hitless innings Tuesday against Seattle. He has maintained effectiveness all spring, recording a 1.69 ERA and limiting opponents to a .111 batting average in 5 2/3 innings spanning three outings.

"The whole time, I didn't feel tired at all," he said. "I felt strong. I don't feel like I was too taxed."

Finding a spot for Runzler on the 25-man Opening Day roster could challenge the Giants, however. The starting rotation of Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner is airtight. Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson are certain to be in the bullpen. Assuming the Giants begin the season with a 12-man pitching staff, that leaves one opening available for a quartet of leading contenders: Runzler, Guillermo Mota, Jeff Suppan and Ryan Vogelsong.

"This staff's so good, from top to bottom, starters and relievers -- anywhere I can fit in," Runzler said.

The Giants conceivably don't have to finalize Runzler's responsibilities this year. For instance, Affeldt will become eligible for free agency after this season, unless San Francisco picks up the $5 million option on his 2012 contract. If Affeldt departs on the open market, Runzler would become a leading candidate to replace him as a primary left-handed reliever.

Though relievers typically master a narrower range of pitches than starters, Runzler can benefit from having a variety of choices at his disposal.

"So on a given day, if he doesn't have that explosive fastball, he can still get outs," Tidrow said.

Closer Brian Wilson, who started briefly at the outset of his professional career, endorsed the notion of pitching until one finds a niche.

"Being on the mound helps, whatever you're doing," Wilson said. "The unfortunate thing about our job is, you can't practice pitching. You have to take it out on the mound. Nine out of 10 guys would love to be able to throw a 200-pitch bullpen just to iron out some stuff. But we can't do it. We can't go in the batting cage and work on certain things. So we have to do it in the game, which actually helps more, because you're out there under pressure to do the right thing and get over the fear of what you're working on."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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