SAN FRANCISCO — Five different guys, taking the ball every fifth day, going as deep into a game as they can. It’s the platonic ideal for most baseball teams, and the San Francisco Giants are no exception, despite what you have witnessed this season.
They have the major-league leader in innings pitched, Logan Webb, but their starters have thrown the fewest innings in the majors. A rookie reliever has started the fourth-most games on staff, more than either of the free agents they brought in to start games.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
“Every team wants to be able to run four starters out there every time through,” said Giants manager Gabe Kapler, the skipper who has made more treks to the pitcher’s mound prior to the third inning than any other this season. “Give them the ball and see if they can get into the sixth or the seventh inning and then give it to your guys who are short sprinters. I don’t think that ambition will ever go away for us.”
The Giants could return to a traditional rotation next season, with as much as four-fifths of it a product of their farm system.
“You can see a rotation forming with Webb and Keaton Winn and Tristan Beck and Kyle Harrison in a way that we haven’t seen since we’ve been here,” Kapler said. “I don’t have to list off the rookies who have come up and gotten really meaningful, valuable experience this year and what historically that means for teams the following year.
“When you graduate Keaton Winn, Kyle Harrison … and you’ve got a top of the rotation starter (Webb) that’s a core piece and you’ve got a backend of the bullpen guy (Camilo Doval) that’s one of your core pieces, you can build around that. I don’t know that we’ve necessarily been able to say that yet.”
Ever since they drafted Harrison out of De La Salle (Concord), the Giants envisioned him and Webb at the top of their rotation one day. The emergence of Winn, a fifth-round pick out of Iowa Western JC in Bobby Evans’ last draft, and Beck, one of the first prospects acquired by Farhan Zaidi (in exchange for one of Evans’ worst contracts, Mark Melancon, at the 2019 trade deadline), give them four potential starters — five with Alex Cobb, whose $10 million club option is expected to be picked up.
In a season that featured four pitchers who made their major-league debuts, Beck has logged more innings than any of them. He has worn almost every hat and, like Ryan Walker, has gained goodwill with the coaching staff for his flexibility.
But ever since he was at Stanford, Beck has been a starter, with an arsenal to match, and he was clear about his intentions next season.
“I think everybody wants to be a starter, right?” he said. “I think that’s something that’s going to be my focus this offseason. Obviously I’m a guy with a ton of different pitches, and that sometimes lends itself to being a starter. … They’ve been clear that they think I have that in me.”
In 80 innings, Beck has a 4.05 ERA. He has started two games and finished 13. He’s thrown as many as 70 pitches in one outing and as few as five, appearing not just in all nine innings this season but 11, counting the two shutout frames he tossed in extra innings against the Red Sox on July 30.
Throwing 4⅓ innings of bulk relief Sunday at Dodger Stadium, Beck’s fastball was up to 98.3 mph. He got six called strikes with his curveball and generated three swings and misses with his sweeper, a third breaking ball he only added this season.
“I’m really happy with the year I’ve had,” Beck said. “Coming up, you never know exactly what it’s going to be like and how different pitches are going to play, how different situations are going to play out. I like to think I’ve seen a little bit of everything this year. I think going into next season I doubt I’ll be caught off guard like maybe I was sometimes this season.”
Before contracting COVID-19 last week, Winn had made back-to-back starts in which he missed bats at a higher rate than any Giants pitcher had in a start this season, inducing whiffs on a mind-boggling 25% of his 156 combined pitches. For context, the sport’s premier strikeout artist, Spencer Strider, has generated swings and misses on 20.6% of his pitches this season. (For more context, both starts came against the lowly Rockies.)
Feeling better but still in isolation as of Monday, Winn’s season has been setback by illness and a mid-summer elbow strain, but the 25-year-old right-hander proved his upper-90s heater and nasty splitfinger play against major-league hitters, with a 3.89 ERA in 37 innings over eight games (four starts).
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Beyond the foursome of rookies this season, more are expected to debut in 2024.
Left-hander Carson Whisenhunt, their second-round pick in 2022, has soared through the minor leagues on the strength of a changeup that is already considered major-league caliber. Right-hander Mason Black, one of the nine pitchers they took with their first nine picks in 2021, reached Triple-A Sacramento and was the rare pitcher to find success in the Pacific Coast League.
“Keaton, Kyle, those are two guys that I’m close with. They’re both obviously unbelievable pitchers. Even beyond that, I think we’ve got a lot of talent coming up the pipeline,” Beck said. “I think this organization has definitely shown they know how to build arms and I think we’re now just starting to see the tip of the iceberg on that front.”