Altered roles, not faces, in Giants' bullpen

Solid core in place, but team must determine where each reliever fits

Altered roles, not faces, in Giants' bullpen

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants are rearranging the bullpen more than they're revamping it.

Five of their leading relievers entering Spring Training appeared in 56 games or more for the team last season: Cory Gearrin, George Kontos, Derek Law, Josh Osich and Hunter Strickland. The exceptions were: rookie Steven Okert, who made 16 appearances for San Francisco; Will Smith, who pitched in 26 games after being acquired at the Trade Deadline from Milwaukee; and David Hernandez, who signed with the Giants on Tuesday.

Mark Melancon's presence suggests that Giants manager Bruce Bochy should be able to assign more specific duties to each reliever who precedes the team's prized closer. Roles were loosely defined in San Francisco's bullpen, which tied a Major League record by featuring eight different relievers with at least 40 appearances. The 2011 Mets and 2013 Twins previously set that standard.

Bochy on Melancon, '17 bullpen

Lacking a reliable closer last year and order in the rest of the bullpen, the Giants blew 30 saves and lost nine games which they led entering the ninth inning. Both were franchise records. San Francisco also lost six games after building leads of at least four runs, tying Colorado for most in the Majors.

After Tuesday's opening workout for pitchers and catchers, Bochy essentially vowed that the Giants' bullpen will improve this season.

"I really feel that when we leave here, we're going to have a good bullpen, a solid bullpen," Bochy said.

For years, the bullpen wasn't a concern for the Giants, as the "core four" of Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo provided stability. Turnover began when Affeldt retired following the 2015 season, and this past winter, Casilla fled to the A's as a free agent, Romo is expected to sign with the Dodgers, and Lopez became a free agent before retiring. However, the experience already gained by the Giants' holdover relievers should ease the transition.

Smith fans Bryant

Bochy reiterated that he'd prefer to shape San Francisco's bullpen while Cactus League exhibitions are still being played. He said that he and the team's decision-makers "have a good idea" of the bullpen's composition but left open the possibility for adjustments.

"I don't want these guys to feel like [they] have to get everybody out to have that role. With that said, about halfway to the last third of spring, hopefully we'll have these things defined. And 'defined' does not mean one guy gets just this inning or one guy gets that inning."

General manager Bobby Evans cited Law, Strickland and Smith as leading candidates for setup roles, indicating that while each reliever's domain could be more specific, Bochy will have some room for personnel flexibility.

"You'll find that the seventh and eighth innings are very similar," Evans said. "So there's room for more than one guy to serve in that role on any given day. But as much as possible, you want it clearly defined so you know who's going to precede Melancon as much as you can."

Bochy wouldn't commit to assigning the responsibility of lefty-versus-lefty specialist, which Lopez vacated, to either Osich or Okert.

"I think they're both guys who can face righties, with their stuff," Bochy said, though he acknowledged that Osich, who allowed right-handers to hit .322 off him last year, must refine his approach.

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.