ORACLE PARK — Two months ago, Shaun Anderson walked out of the San Francisco Giants dugout on a sunny afternoon at Oracle Park to make his first career major league start. On Saturday, he walked up the steps with a prospect who, on Sunday, will do the same against the New York Mets: Conner Menez.
Menez — on the taxi squad before being officially called up — arrived in the clubhouse in the morning to get his uniform — Mac Williamson’s former No. 51 — and meet with coaches.
Menez, 24, is the Giants’ 21st-ranked prospect according to MLB.com, arguably the most big-league-ready arm that hasn’t actually seen the big leagues yet. His promotion helps give the Giants another fresh arm, while enabling them flexibility.
Menez began the season with Double-A Richmond after a brief stint with the big league club in spring training. He’s been with Triple-A Sacramento since early June. In his 29 minor league appearance (28 starts), the left-hander is 5-3 with a 3.13 ERA and 123 strikeouts, while holding opponents to a .208 batting average. After his promotion to Triple-A, Menez’s ERA saw an uptick from 2.72 in 11 starts in Richmond to 3.82 over seven outings in Sacramento.
While his WHIP and opponents’ batting average also increased –from 0.96 and .179 in Double-A to 1.42 and .252 in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League – Menez upped his strikeouts per nine from 10.6 to 13.6 against stiffer competition.
The southpaw profiles right now as a back-end starter with a solid four pitch mix that includes a 90-93 mph fastball that tops out at 95 mph and induces a surprising amount of swings and misses with its high spin rate. Menez’s best secondary pitch is his slider, followed by his changeup and curveball.
“He’s been throwing the ball well,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “He’s got four pitches and he’s been commanding the ball well. He’s really been on a fast pace with his progress.”
Menez will make his first start against fellow left-hander Steven Matz (5-6, 4.87 ERA) on Sunday, as the man he replaces — Drew Pomeranz — heads to the bullpen, and is available to help on Saturday.
San Francisco’s relief corps needs the help: They’ve pitched nine innings in its last two games, both of which went to extras.
Pomeranz pitched well in his last start on July 16 against the Rockies, allowing only one earned run over five innings, but Bochy said that the decision to call up Menez was motivated by “looking at this thing long-term and what’s best for the club.”
Still, Bochy maintains that the Giants will remain flexible on Pomeranz’s role with the club, and believes that the starter – who has pitched as primary reliever before with the Oakland Athletics in 2015 – can be an important piece in a bullpen that Bochy said is “without question” right up there with those of the Giants’ three most recent championship teams.
“We really have more depth [in the bullpen],” Bochy said. “You look at the number of guys that have experience, I think we have more here than ever. I think this pen is as good as any we’ve had.”
Certainly, there is precedent this year for a starter performing well in relief, as Derek Holland – who went 1-4 with a 5.14 ERA in five starts this season – has not allowed an earned run in five appearances since July 2 and is the owner of a 0.69 ERA in ten outings dating back to June 20.
Giants third baseman Evan Longoria has resumed “baseball activities,” taking grounders and throwing from his knees before Saturday’s game while wearing a short walking boot on his left foot.
Longoria was Giants’ hottest hitter – 12-for-30 with 6 home runs and 12 RBI in the month of July – before aggravating a left foot plantar fasciitis injury on July 14.
Longoria will continue to wear a boot for the rest of this week before being reevaluated in three to four days, said Bochy.
Bochy gave no precise timetable for Longoria’s return.