By Doug Bruzzone
Special to S.F. Examiner
ORACLE PARK —The Giants bullpen, overworked over the last few days after a 13-inning game and two early exits from their starters, received some reinforcements on Sunday when the team called up right-hander Sam Coonrod from Triple-A Sacramento, optioning Andrew Suarez to Sacramento as the corresponding roster move.
“He’s been throwing the ball very well the last four or five outings,” manager Bruce Bochy said about Coonrod. “They’ve been good outings for him. He’s been mainly a one inning guy recently, but he can go a couple for us. We need some help with the bullpen situation.”
On the surface, Coonrod’s numbers aren’t very impressive. In 18 innings, he has an 0-4 record and an ERA of 7.00. But he’s struck out a gaudy 30 batters in those 18 innings, and in his last five outings, he’s pitched 4 2/3 innings, struck out 9, and given up just three baserunners without allowing a run.
His success came on the heels of making an adjustment in pitch selection. He had been throwing four-seam fastballs, and opposing batters were ready for them – “It’s like the hitters were selling out for my four-seamer,” as Coonrod put it. When you combine that with the newly-implemented use of Major League balls across all of Triple-A this year, where the balls are harder and the home runs have skyrocketed, he and Sacramento pitching coach Steve Kline thought it would be a good idea to start throwing a two-seamer.
“They added those balls that you could tell [are why] home runs went up quickly,” Coonrod said. “I started throwing a two-seam fastball mainly because of that so it would hopefully go on the ground, because if you get it in the air now, it’s easy to go out.”
The Giants drafted Coonrod in the fifth round in 2014 out of Southern Illinois University, and he moved quickly, reaching Double-A Richmond in 2016.
A starter for most of his career, Coonrod is in the bullpen now, but he feels that his time in the rotation helped him develop into the pitcher he is today.
“It definitely made me make adjustments,” he said. “If I was in the bullpen, I don’t think I would have been able to make as many adjustments as I did.”
His career stalled, though, after having to undergo Tommy John surgery, which cost him most of his 2018 season. Coonrod made his first appearance last year at the end of July, pitched through August, and was assigned to Sacramento to start 2019.
Now Coonrod is in the Major Leagues, and he’s grateful that his journey has led him to San Francisco.
“I’m extremely blessed. Very thankful for the opportunity. From being to where you can’t play to going to where you can play, then getting a chance to play in the major leagues, I couldn’t be more thankful.”
-Bochy declined to name Suarez’s replacement in the rotation, saying that there were a couple candidates for the spot. He was firm, though, that Derek Holland would stay in the bullpen for the time being. Newly-recalled Dereck Rodriguez, who threw two scoreless innings on Saturday, could be a candidate.