ORACLE PARK — As Shaun Anderson entered the Giants’ home clubhouse following Friday’s 6-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, he made a quick, hard left turn. He was looking for Mark Melancon.
It’s become part of Anderson’s routine after each start in his rookie season to debrief with the veteran reliever, even though the only real similarity between the two is the fact that both have fastballs that cut.
“Everything he was saying, I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t think of it like that,’” said Anderson, who struck out three and allowed two runs on seven hits in yet another strong outing. “It’s awesome to have someone like that in the locker room. We happen to have a ton of them.”
Anderson has made a habit of picking the brains of older players, something that, as the rebuilding Giants evaluate what pieces stay, what pieces go and what pieces have trade value, could help cement his place in the club’s future plans. The big, power-pitching right-hander and former closer isn’t just throwing; he’s learning how to pitch.
“I just think, each time out, he’s making improvements in fastball command,” said catcher Buster Posey. “I think he’s starting to, and he might have already, but I think he’s reading swings well, being able to tell what guys are trying to do off of him, and you can just see his confidence growing.”
Anderson — a closer at Florida — sought out Melancon right after his first big league start against Toronto in May, and asked if he could watch some video of his start with him. It took Melancon a bit by surprise. In his experience, not many young starters avail themselves of the experience of their elders. Though Melancon — signed to a four-year, $62 million deal to be the Giants’ closer — has become a setup man to Will Smith, he’s posted a 3.48 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings this season as part of the fifth-best bullpen in Major League Baseball. He’s also been in the Majors since 2009, piling up 549 appearances.
“He understands that he’s new, and he wants to get better,” Melancon said. “He’s looking for any details or advice, experience, anything that can help him, and that’s awesome. That’s ultimately what’s going to make him be around for a logn time, because he’s already got the talent … It’s a mindset, and I enjoy helping people who want to learn.”
After zipping through the first three innings on Friday with relative ease — something he’d yet to do consistently — Anderson allowed a pop-fly single to Jarrod Dyson to lead off the fourth, then a one-out walk to David Peralta before a seven-pitch battle with Jake Lamb ended with a run-scoring squeaker through the left side, just out of reach of a shifted Crawford, cutting the lead to 2-1. He came back and caught Nick Ahmed looking at strike three to end the inning.
“[I was] just throwing strikes, attacking the zone, attacking the zone low,” Anderson said. “Pitched a lot inside [Friday], mixed outside when I saw that they were making adjustments. I think Buster and I were on the same page. I think we had a good game plan going in, working with the pitching coaches beforehand, this week, and just stuck to that plan.”
After allowing a leadoff double in the fifth, Anderson showed off another facet to his game — defense. He picked up a bunt from Merrill Kelly and spun around to cut down Carson Kelly drifting too far off second. He then got a strikeout and a soft grounder to the right side, covering first on the flip to get out of that inning.
“He’s a good athlete,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “I like how he does the little peripherals around the mound — holding runners, fielding his position — he’s got good game awareness. He’s been taught well, and he has shown it up here. It’s a big part of the game.”
Bochy wanted to keep Anderson in the game to finish off the sixth — it would have been his fifth quality start of the month — but elected to go with Reyes Moronta when two runners reached. With a bullpen ERA of 3.76 — third in the National League — there was no reason to risk what was, at the time, a one-run game.
“[I’m] just learning from each outing,” Anderson said. “Today, I thought I made some good pitches, and I thought some pitches I was unhappy with. I broke down just real quick with Melancon afterwards, and I feel like I’m learning more each outing. Throwing the ball lower in the zone, staying away from the middle part, that’s really been a huge, key factor for me, and that’s something that I’ve been working with the pitching coaches with. I’m just trying to build off that.”
After going 0-1 with a 4.80 ERA and not pitching beyond the fifth inning in his first three starts, Anderson has come around. In six June starts, Anderson is 3-1 with a 3.47 ERA, striking out 20 in 36 1/3 innings of work.
“It’s been neat watching his progress,” Bochy said. “You can see it in him. It feels like he belongs.”
He’s still watching video after games with Melancon, and going over scouting reports before every start. His thirst for knowledge is one of the reasons why, when Posey was asked what he’s looking forward to in the second half of the season, he didn’t hesitate.
“Anderson,” the former National League MVP said on Friday. “I think [Tyler] Beede had a good start yesterday, [Madison Bumgarner]’s throwing the ball well. I think the game always starts with good pitching and defense, and with those guys throwing the ball better and better, hopefully we can get on a groove swinging the bats, see what happens.”