ORACLE PARK — Though Giants manager Bruce Bochy did not yet have a rotation for after the All-Star break on Saturday, but he said that Madison Bumgarner — starting today against the Cardinals — could “possibly” be the first guy out of the gate. He’ll have something more concrete on Sunday.
Whatever that rotation looks like, it’s likely that Dereck Rodriguez will at least be some part of it.
After a sensational rookie season, Rodriguez has shuttled between the rotation and the bullpen, the majors and Triple-A. He’s still in San Francisco’s long-term plans, though, which is why he’s getting stretched back out in the minors, with a plan for him to return after the All-Star break.
The 27-year old right-hander threw four innings on Friday for Triple-A Sacramento, allowing three earned runs on four hits and a walk, striking out four on 58 pitches (39 strikes) in his first start at any level since May 22.
In 2018, Rodriguez went 6-4 with a staff-best 2.81 ERA in 118 1/3 innings, and was in consideration for National League Rookie of the Year honors. He made the rotation out of spring training this year, but went 3-5 with a 5.05 ERA before being demoted for two weeks. After being called up and sent to the bullpen, he held opponents to a .250 average, but had a 5.87 ERA in 15 1/3 innings.
Never really a strikeout pitcher (his 6.77 K/9 was nearly 2.0 below the 2018 league average) and never possessed of elite velocity, Rodriguez had depended — as many pitch-to-contact pitchers do — on command and control. In 2018, he caught barrels on just 3.9% of his pitches in 2018 — better than 88% of big league pitchers.
This season, he had struck out one fewer batter per nine innings (5.75), walked nearly one batter more (3.67 to 2.74 in 2018). He caught barrels on 6.9% of his pitches, his hard-hit rate jumped from 39.4% to 45.7% and his average exit velocity was higher than nearly 75% of big league pitchers.
Being moved back down to the minors enables Rodriguez to up his pitch count, find a rhythm as a starter again and refine his control in a way he may not have had the luxury to do at the big league level. It’s alsy a savvy roster move.
Since the Triple-A All-Star break coincides with the big league break, Rodriguez will start once more game at another level (possibly High-A San Jose) in order to stretch out further and get the most out of his requisite 10 days in the minors following his July 1 option. If he pitches on schedule, he would be in line to return and start one game of the doubleheader at Colorado on July 15.
“That’s why this move was made,” Bochy said, “so we could make him one of the candidates.”
Tyler Beede — optioned on Tuesday — likely won’t pitch again until he returns to the Majors, as he is spending time in Boston to mourn the death of his stepfather. Like Rodriguez, though, he’s a likely call-up to start the second half, with an eye toward starting on July 14 at Milwaukee.
Left-handed reliever Travis Bergen is “chilling,” Bochy said, as he begins a week without throwing to rest his strained left shoulder, which tightened up after his last rehab outing. He’ll be re-evaluated after the All-Star break.
Even with right-hander Jack Flaherty going on Sunday for the Cardinals — a day game to conclude San Francisco’s first half — the Giants will likely go with a right-handed-heavy lineup. Much depends on Saturday’s outcome, but it’s almost a certainty that Buster Posey will rest in favor of left-handed-hitting Stephen Vogt, and Pablo Sandoval will definitely be off.
Austin Slater will likely get a chance to start as the Giants want to keep him involved. In three games back at the big league level, he’s 5-for-12 with two doubles, a triple, a homer and five RBIs.