A relief pitcher's one inning line in a single mid-March Spring Training game boxscore would hardly seem significant. But veteran right-handed hurler Chad Gaudin may look back at an inning he put up this week that may have been one of the most important of his 10 year Major League career.
Because his 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 SO, 0 BB performance against the Cincinnati Reds at their Goodyear Ballpark Spring home on Wednesday March 13th likely assured Gaudin the final open spot in the World Champion San Francisco Giants' 2013 bullpen.
In a preseason camp with few open roster spots and little controversy, the twin battles to determine who will be the extra outfielder and who will be the 6th man in the bullpen at first seem as important as the salad forks at a ten course banquet.
But on manager Bruce Bochy's teams everyone in the bullpen has a critical role to play throughout the season. And as far as the Giants' "extra" outfielder (or infielder), a quick look at the contributions made by Joaquin Arias and Ryan Theriot during the 2012 season makes the word "extra" seem, well, off base.
One of the reasons the Giants have won two of the last three World Series is they present a full team attack; unlike a number of other MLB teams, there are no "extra" players on their 25 man roster. You might argue that without a core of power hitters in the middle of their line-up, San Francisco has no other choice. And you would be absolutely correct.
Certainly there's a lot of Spring Training left to play (we're just hitting the half-way mark). Chad Gaudin could collapse, another reliever could suddenly excel and we'll have to erase the blackboard and start all over. But so far Gaudin's Spring numbers are good– 13 hits allowed in 11.1 IP with 3 walks, 7 SOs, and 3 ER.
Most importantly for the Giants, Chad Gaudin's resume fills a critical role for the 2013 team: a true "long man" in the bullpen who also has the ability to start a game if needed.
Which brings up the other moment this Spring that seriously goosed Gaudin's stock: his March 7th emergency start for Tim Lincecum against the Cleveland Indians. Gaudin went 3 innings and gave up 2 hits and no runs with 2 strikeouts. And it's that ability to start that separates Gaudin from the other pitchers battling for the final 2013 bullpen slot, including the otherwise excellent home-grown lefty Dan Runzler.
During his ten year career, Chad Gaudin put in two years as a full time starter– he had 34 starts in 2007 with Oakland, and 25 starts in 2009 with San Diego and the Yankees. That flexibility and experience is something the Giants have not had in many years.
Guillermo Mota filled the "long man" role by default from 2010-2012 for San Francisco, but Mota hasn't started a single game in his fourteen year career. Contrary to the expert opinions often heard on sportstalk radio, selecting a relief pitcher at random to make an emergency start can potentially create a poopstorm domino effect that will screw up a bullpen for weeks.
It will be fascinating to follow Chad Gaudin the rest of this Spring. Gaudin is on track to not only fill Mota's role as a strong-armed inning eater, but also to provide the Giants with an additional level of last minute starting pitching depth. And that's something that may come in handy for a team looking to play some baseball in October.