Todd Wellemeyer’s hold on the fifth spot in the starting rotation has more to do with who the Giants have waiting in the minor leagues than it does with how the veteran has pitched.
The 31-year-old journeyman is 2-3 with a 5.71 ERA. His 27 walks and 29 hits yielded in 41 innings have kept in the stretch far too long. His five inning outing in a loss to Arizona on Wednesday would most certainly, call for the club to consider the state of the No. 5 spot behind Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, and Barry Zito.
The Triple-A pitchers who are performing well aren’t exactly the frontline prospects the club would turn to if they were to give up on Wellemeyer, a veteran they signed as a free agent over the winter.
Top pitching prospect Madison Bumgarner entered spring training as the No. 5 starter, but the lost the job with a string of weak performances. He lost his control and, worse, zip off his fastball.
While the young left-hander is 3-1 with a 3.64 ERA in Fresno, it seems like an organization scared to death of rushing catcher Buster Posey to the big leagues will try to avoid bringing Bumgarner back right now.
He has regained the fastball, back to 92-94 mph most nights. He’s fanned 32 and walked just 13 in 42 innings, but the organization might want him to get more than a month pitching like they think he can before they expose him to big league hitters again.
Eric Hacker has been the most effective Fresno starter. He’s 7-1 with a 2.20 ERA. He has the numbers to back a bid for, at least, a spot start in the big leagues. However, he’s a 27-year-old right-hander who was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2002 — the 696th player drafted.
Hacker is a journeyman minor leaguer who pitched three games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009, working three innings. That’s the extent of his big league experience.
Given a choice between hanging with Wellemeyer and calling on Hacker—expect the conservative Giants to stick with Wellemeyer.
Joe Martinez, who gets a start in Fresno tonight, is 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA in seven starts in Fresno. He made the big club out of spring training last year, but was struck in the head with a line drive early and missed most of the season.
Martinez, 27, was 3-2 with a 7.50 ERA in nine games for San Francisco last year. He walked 12 and struck out 19 in 30 innings. His 1.933 WHIP resulted in him spending the final playoff stretch run in the minor leagues. He gave up an average of 13.8 hits per nine innings.
The Giants might consider calling on Martinez, but he hasn’t worked longer than seven innings in a Triple-A game this year. Four of his seven starts ended in or before the fifth inning.
Martinez has an edge on Hacker. The Giants don’t want to rush Bumgarner. But, Martinez doesn’t have numbers to indicate he absolutely would be an upgrade over Wellemeyer.
Remember when 25-year-old Kevin Pucetas was tearing things up in spring training? Things haven’t gone that well for him since two atrocious starts to end camp and send him packing for Fresno.
He’s currently 2-2 with a 4.22 ERA in eight starters. He’s given up an alarming 55 basehits in 42 2/3 innings pitched.
Wellemeyer look any better yet?
One interesting candidate could be 30-year-old lefty Horacio Ramirez. He’s 1-1 with a 4.12 ERA in six appearances, three starts, in Fresno. While he has given up 23 hits in 19 2/3 innings, he has walked just two.
Actually, his claim to a shot at taking a start from Wellemeyer comes from his previous big league experience. Ramirez was 30-22 in four years with the Atlanta Braves. His 4.13 ERA in the final years of the steroids era seemed to show he was headed for a long big league career.
The wheels came off for the 6'1", 220-pound lefty. A shoulder injury resulted in his going 9-13 with an out-of-this-world ERA the last three years—including a stint in the Kansas City Royals starting rotation.
Still, the lefty does have big league experience with 1.478 WHIP and good control—and he’s gone 30-22 in the National League while going 9-13 in the American League. His fastball hovers in the low 90s and he throws four pitches.
Hacker’s a journeyman. Bumgarner’s just now getting back on the fast track. Martinez hasn’t shown much. And, Ramirez is in Fresno on a minor league contract. Pucetas, regardless of the fabulous spring fans remember, isn’t a viable alternative.
It might be that the Giants don’t really feel they have a better pitcher than Wellemeyer to slip into that No. 5 spot right now.
What about Bumgarner?
Well, a month ago the same folks screaming for his recall now were insisting that the 20-year-old was a head case gone bust. Remember? Fastball was below 90 mph and all? This doesn’t seem like the opportune time to send a desperate call to Fresno simply because one-fifth of the Giants rotation is really struggling.
Or, is it?
If Wellemeyer can’t turn things around in his next four starts, it might be worth one of those inexplicable stints on the disabled list to get (fill in the blank) a big league start or two while the Giants wait to be convinced that Bumgarner’s ready to return to and stay in San Francisco.
And, Let's Not Forget...
Noah Lowry hasn't pitched since he was sidelined by an injury in 2007. He was a key member of the Giants rotation, but has undergone a series of surgeries and claims his initial injury was mis-diagnosed by the club's medical staff. Lowry was slated to throw for a group of big league scouts in February in Arizona. At the time, he reportedly had interest from the Astros, Mets, Phillies, Rangers, and Red Sox.
Lowry, 29, opted to push back his scout day. His goal was to be in spring training with a big league team, but he remains unsigned and off the radar.
Pedro Martinez is still unsigned and it is getting closer to the time of the year when weather warms up and the future Hall of Famer will be ready to help a team down the stretch. The Giants have never expressed any interest in signing Martinez.
He was a cult hero—"The Big Sadowski." Remember? Ryan Sadowski came out of the Giants minor league system with a mid-80s fastball. He got the call for an emergency start in 2009—the team provided run support—and he won. He kept on winning for San Francisco—until he started losing. He is currently pitching in the Korean Baseball Organization for the Lotte Giants where he is 0-4.