After coming back home from AT&T Park from the Giants game on Saturday, I was carousing on my Twitter and stumbled upon this very intriguing Tweet from the San Francisco Giants' account:
"Who do you think will be the fifth starter: Justin Miller, Joe Martinez, Kevin Pucetas or Madison Bumgarner?"
With Ryan Sadowski officially getting demoted back to Fresno Saturday, and with Jonathan Sanchez firmly entrenched in the rotation with Randy Johnson on the 60-day DL, the question of who should fill the fifth-spot in the rotation is intriguing.
I have raised the question before, but that was before I knew the Big Unit's injury was as serious as it was.
In response to that question, I would automatically eliminate two names from that list:
Justin Miller and Madison Bumgarner.
In my mind, Miller has found a role on this Giants team as their long-innings reliever. There is no one else on this team that can fulfill that role in the bullpen. Every other pitcher in the pen is suited for one-inning work, two at the tops. To thrust Miller in the rotation now would leave the Giants severely handicapped in the long-relief department, and that is always a concern with guys like Zito and Sanchez in the rotation, guys who are capable of getting blown up in four or less innings.
Furthermore, Miller has always been a mediocre starter. He doesn't have a great fastball, and he is a "junk" pitcher, plain and simple. He's great for a few innings, but once he would hit the fourth or fifth inning, hitter would be able to adapt to his pitches rather easily. Miller has found a great role on this team for his set of pitching skills, and I am hard-pressed to believe that manager Bruce Bochy would deviate from his strengths now after succeeding in this role the entire season.
As for Bumgarner, I love this kid. I breathed a sigh of relief that he wasn't even considered in any trade deadline deals this past week. He is on the cusp of something special, and he was somebody the Giants couldn't lose, no matter who was available on the market (same thing goes for Buster Posey).
That being said, I don't think there is any point in rushing him up to the majors now (And according to recent reports, Bochy feels the same way as he has announced that Bumgarner won't be considered just yet for the fifth spot).
Let him dominate a little more in the minors and see what he can do in Spring Training next year. If he has a great outing in Spring Training, then give him the fifth spot in the rotation next season (which will probably be open when Randy Johnson most likely retires next season).
I just don't want the Giants to hurt this kid's confidence before he is ready for the Major League level, and with the Giants competing for the Wild Card spot, we aren't really in the position to bring up guys just for the sake of getting them Major League experience. He is only 20-years-old, and he still has a lot to work on as a pitcher. If he was out of college, and 22 or 23, then I would feel differently. However, because of his youth, I think he could benefit from finishing the year in the minors and getting a chance to start next season.
So, that basically leaves the Giants with two options: Kevin Pucetas or Joe Martinez, who has been sidelined most of the year after getting hit in the head with a ball on April 9.
I have been eager to see Pucetas get a call-up, simply because of his performance at the minor league level this season.
At 10-2 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, Pucetas certainly has made a case this year for a callup. He was actually supposed to get the callup earlier after Jonathan Sanchez was sent to the bullpen, but because he pitched the day before the scheduled start against Milwaukee, the Giants opted to go with Sadowski instead.
The only concern with Pucetas is his stuff (his K-rating is a 61 on The Baseball Cube). There are a lot of camps and fans that feel Pucetas doesn't exactly have the stuff to succeed at the major league level.
Pucetas simply isn't a strikeout pitcher, as evidenced by only having 74 strikeouts in 128 IP. He doesn't have the fastball to get guys out like Tim Lincecum.
However, we have seen pitchers been successful at the Major League level without the greatest of stuff (Greg Maddux rings a bell). Furthermore, the Giants are not expecting Pucetas to be a centerpiece of this rotation, but rather a fill-in until (or if) Johnson gets healthy and returns to the rotation.
Pucetas is certainly capable of fulfilling that role, even if the best case scenario for him may be Mark Gardner.
Stuff isn't too much of an issue with Martinez as it is for Pucetas. While he is by no means a strikeout pitcher, his propensity for a K is a lot more likely than Pucetas (The Baseball Cube give him a K-rating of 82).
In Fresno this season, Martinez has a 2.93 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP and 16 strikeouts in 27.2 IP. Last year in Double-A, his stats were impressive, as he had a 2.49 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP and a 112 SO in 148 IP.
The main advantage Martinez has over Pucetas though is that he has pitched at the Major League level this season, something Pucetas hasn't done in his four-year career in baseball.
Martinez's stats with Giants aren't great by any measure. In two games, he has a 6.75 ERA, and a 1.87 WHIP in 2.2 IP.
Granted, those are only two appearances, so you can't really judge them that concretely.
At the same time however, there is a concern with Martinez that goes beyond his statline at the Major League level this season.
Can Martinez come back after getting plunked in the head with a baseball?
That kind of incident has derailed pitchers' career in the past. Granted, Martinez didn't have much of a Major League career before getting hit by Mike Cameron with a ball, but no doubt it will effect him whenever he takes the mound for the Giants anytime soon.
Can Martinez get fully comfortable on the mound again? Can he get the confidence to pitch where he's not thinking about the line drive coming at him?
It isn't easy. I'm sure Martinez is capable of overcoming his tragic accident in April, but for anyone who's played baseball can attest, it can be tough to get back in the groove after getting hit in the head with a baseball.
It's like quitting smoking or chewing tobacco. No matter how hard you try, you will be reminded on a constant basis of what happened, and those constant memories will make it tough to move on.
It will be interesting to see who Bochy fills in the fifth spot. As of now, the favorite seems to be Martinez simply because of his Major League experience (even though it isn't much), but Pucetas certainly shouldn't be ruled out. He has certainly paid his dues at Fresno, and deserves a shot to at least pitch at the Major League level this season, even if it is only as a spot starter.
Whoever the Giants go with, they can't afford to keep rotating starters that can't get the job done. If this was like last year, when the Giants were out of it going into August, then I would have no problem and would be open to seeing as many guys starting as possible.
Yet the Giants are in the thick of a playoff race, and they need stability, especially in their rotation, to continue to have a shot at the Wild Card.