A $220-million investment in the rotation has gone a long way toward fueling the Giants’ even-year hype. It’s also lessened the stress level of the pitching coach.
“I’ve got to tell you, I feel a lot better this spring than I did last spring at the same time,” Dave Righetti admitted on the eve of the 2016 season — his 17th presiding over the pitching staff.
Righetti feels better, but the veteran coach still has concerns — even after the team lavished a six-year, $130 million megadeal on Johnny Cueto and a five-year, $90 million contract on Jeff Samardzija.
“This is not a gimme kind of deal,” Righetti explained. “You’ve got to go out there and earn your keep and the best way to do that is keep our guys as healthy as possible, try to coach them up and let them do their thing.”
Few pitchers do their thing quite like Cueto.
Since 2011, the Dominican owns the lowest ERA of any starter not named Clayton Kershaw. Cueto brings one shiny resume, but the righty wobbled badly in 13 second-half starts for the Royals, sporting a 4.76 ERA.
When asked how he knows the Good Johnny will show up in 2016, Righetti was quick to dismiss the concern.
“That was a question more for about two months ago,” Righetti said. “The reason why we feel that way is because the guy is pretty damn talented.”
Righetti’s faith in his second starter is due to the 30-year-old being a pitching savant.
“A lot of things that John does is based on feel and remembering of hitters. He’s a feel guy,” Righetti said. “He goes out there and every guy he knows he puts in the back of his head.”
Now back in Senior Circuit where he’s made 213 of 226 starts, Cueto is ready to put his encyclopedic memory to use.
“Claro,” Cueto declared in Spanish following his final start in Arizona, explaining that he was clearly ready to go.
Samardzija also struck a confident tone with Opening Day approaching.
“It’s spring training, man,” Samardzija said after a recent subpar tuneup, brushing aside his 7.20 ERA in six starts. “I feel good.”
It would be easier to believe the Shark if he hadn’t allowed more earned runs than any pitcher in baseball and served up as many homers as any hurler in the AL in 2015.
With that tendency to serve up big flies, the consensus thinking is that the spacious AT&T Park will be an ideal new home.
“That’s what everybody says,” Righetti reasoned. “The ballpark is favorable for that — for any pitcher.”
Big outfield or not, the plan is to keep the ball out of the air altogether.
“I’m a ground-ball pitcher,” Samardzija said. “I’m going to bang it down in the zone and throw sinkers and sliders and let those guys work for me. I’m going to be buying them a lot of dinners.”
Aside from coaxing the most possible out of his new charges, Righetti will also have to be extra watchful with old hands Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.
Righetti has Chris Heston on the “back burner” as the Cain insurance plan should elbow and forearm injuries once again derail the 30-year-old. Already this spring, Cain had a cyst removed from his upper right arm.
Even Madison Bumgarner has proven fallible — not that Righetti would suggest otherwise for the Giants’ frontman, whose camp was interrupted by problems with his rib cage and left foot.
“Nobody’s indestructible and we never even think about it that way because most guys go through something — even the healthiest guys.” Righetti said of Bumgarner, who’s logged 1,259 1/3 innings since breaking in back in 2009. “You’re going to go through some ups-and-downs with your health.”
As the Giants embark on yet another even-year campaign, Righetti recognizes that there’s no way to avoid the ups-and-downs of the 162-game grind.
“That’s what makes baseball fun,” Righetti said. “There’s always going to be questions.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.