SF Giants’ rotation still a puzzle but encouraging for Gabe Kapler


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There is no such thing as too much starting pitching, the old adage goes. But, sitting in his manager’s office a week before Opening Day, Gabe Kapler on Wednesday was still working to put together a puzzle that had too many pieces.

“It’s a little bit of a puzzle early on,” the Giants manager said of his starting rotation, which has seven capable candidates for only five — or, in the first week of the season, four — spots. With a week of spring training left, the situation has gained little clarity besides the first two games of the regular season, which will feature Logan Webb and Alex Cobb.

It’s a good, if still tricky, problem to have.

The Giants did not want a repeat last season, when short starts, spot starts and bullpen games taxed their relievers, so while they lost Carlos Rodón, they replaced him with two other experienced starters in Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea. The moves provided some insurance in case Anthony DeSclafani’s ankle wasn’t healed after missing most of last season, but DeSclafani has been sharp all spring. And the emergence of Sean Hjelle has only padded their starting depth.

“Probably the most encouraging thing in all of camp is we’re seemingly heading into the last couple days with a pretty healthy pitching staff,” Kapler said. “We always talk about we have some injuries, other teams have some injuries. But I don’t think that there are many teams that can say that they have the pitching depth that we have.”

The Giants have other health concerns, but none among their starting pitchers.

They also have two off days built into the first eight days of the season, which means they could use only four starters until they come home for their opener at Oracle Park against the Royals on April 7. Webb could start Opening Day, followed by Cobb and two others, then again Wednesday in Chicago (with even an extra day of rest). That would line up their No. 3 starter for the home opener, and would allow Webb to pitch against the Dodgers the following series.

The questions left unanswered are who that third starter will be, and who will be the odd men out.

Kapler said he had the Giants’ pitching plans etched out through their opening road trip but wasn’t ready to share beyond their first two starters because “I don’t really want to provide any extra advantages for anybody to plan.”

Stripling seems to be the favorite to slot in behind Webb and Cobb, as that is how the Giants have lined them up this spring since Stripling’s return from paternity leave. While lefty Alex Wood’s throwing schedule could also easily fit the third slot, both the Yankees and White Sox feature lineups loaded with right-handed hitters.

The Giants have already committed to using Jakob Junis as a swingman out of the bullpen, and they have experimented with Sean Manaea in a similar role this spring. Junis has often entered behind Wood, while Manaea has followed DeSclafani. Both pairings offer two distinct looks, each with one righty and one lefty.

Could piggybacking be the solution to the Giants’ swath of starters?

“It’s hard to envision why you’d have the left-handed starter behind the right-handed starter if you’re just going to get the same lineup and you’re not going to get any changes made,” Kapler said. “At some point, you just have to have guys pitch. You don’t want them to sit. … We’re gonna have to get guys innings. So it’s about keeping guys healthy and fresh and strong and less about a different look. We’ll do our best to take all those things into consideration.”


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