AT&T Park — A day after announcing closer Hunter Strickland would miss 6-8 weeks with a broken hand suffered by punching a door in frustration, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Sam Dyson would take over the team’s ninth-inning role.
Dyson, 30, claimed the job over reliever Tony Watson. His four-pitch mix, 2.45 ERA and prior closing experience with the Texas Rangers gave him the edge. Bochy said he prefers to use Watson in the seventh and eighth innings, when he can match the lefty against particular hitters.
Mark Melancon, meanwhile, wasn’t seriously considered despite a four-year, $62 million contract signed in 2017 with the expectation he would become San Francisco’s long-term closer. Injuries have kept him from the late-inning picture.
“I want to leave [Watson] where he’s at because I’ve used him in that seventh and eighth to get him against certain parts of the order,” Bochy explained. “It just gives us more flexibility doing it this way. … Sam, I really like the way he’s been throwing the ball, using all of his pitches well. He probably has the most experience at this point with the exception of Melancon. And [Melancon] is not ready to handle that load.”
Dyson saved 38 games for the Rangers in 2016. His 2.43 ERA made him one of the most promising closers in the game. Then he fell apart in Texas, sporting a disastrous 10.80 ERA through 17 games in 2017 and walking more batters than he struck out. His downfall earned him a DFA and a trade to the Giants.
Since joining San Francisco, Dyson has rediscovered the sinking fastball that made him so effective when he was at his best in Texas. With Strickland out for at least a couple of months, he should have plenty of chances to settle in as the Giants closer.
Amid a season shaken by long-term injuries to Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Madison Bumgarner and now Strickland, the recent absence of potential All-Star shortstop Brandon Crawford — whose wife gave birth on Monday — hasn’t derailed the squad as much as expected.
Crawford will miss his third straight game on Wednesday. He’ll return to the lineup Thursday night, Bochy said, and try to build upon his team-leading .315 batting average.
In the meantime, infielder Alen Hanson has continued to flash his versatility, starting at shortstop for the second straight game, before going down in the first inning after fouling a ball off of his knee on Wednesday. He’s helped minimize Crawford’s absence despite not being a natural shortstop.
On Tuesday, Hanson went 3-for-4 at the plate, and looked at ease in the field. Bochy said that gives him comfort moving forward, even if Crawford will command shortstop for the rest of the season barring injury.
“Wow, he did a nice job,” Bochy said. “He has shown he can play some third, some short and second and outfield. He looked like he was comfortable. That’s a really nice thing to have.”
Despite its middling 36-38 record, San Francisco’s roster is filled with players either at or past their primes. This is not a young team. Hanson, then, is an exception, breaking into the fold after three subpar seasons with the Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates.
He’s hitting .314 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 31 games. Longoria’s broken finger, suffered last week, likely ensures he’ll continue to receive opportunities as a utility player once Crawford returns.
Jeff Samardzija is expected to make a rehab start on Thursday and throw 60-70 pitches. He’s been on the disabled list with shoulder tightness.
Johnny Cueto, who is battling an inflamed right elbow, will play catch on Thursday. His performance in that session will determine if he’s ready for a rehab assignment.