Well, that wasn’t nice to watch.
I’ve been rough on Ryan Vogelsong this season because, well, his pitching had been pretty rough. I thought he’d be the first one to miss a start, but not like this. Seeing him get hit on the hand pretty much ruined a big win that the Giants (and their fans) needed.
Vogelsong’s comeback story will always be one of my favorite stories of Giants for the rest of my life, wherever his story goes from here. We’ve seen a few natural superstars, some underdogs and some renaissances, but few players ever are a true story of inspiration like Vogelsong has been. I expect he has another comeback in him.
Unfortunately, we do need to talk about what happens now before that comeback happens. The Giants need a starter, and not just a spot starter. They’ll need a two-month guy that can come into a rotation in turmoil and turn things around. So here’s some odds on who might come in and slip into that 5th spot.
Mike Kickham: The 24-year old lefty prospect has always been an under-the-radar kind of guy, but that’s mostly because his stats have never been too overwhelming. Still, Kickham opened some eyes in Richmond, posting a 3.05 ERA with 137 strikeouts against 75 walks. That 137 strikeouts was second in the league. He has a fastball in the low 90s with a decent slider and changeup, but he lives on having a lot of motion on his pitches.
This season, Kickham started off a bit rough in Fresno with three straight starts of allowing five runs or more to end the month of April. However, since May has begun he has a 1.80 ERA in four starts.
As a prospect, I’ve never been overly high on Kickham because of his tendency to be a bit wild. That was one of his downsides in Richmond, and he hasn’t been great with his control in Fresno either. He’ll need to have Posey behind the plate to keep his wildness from becoming wild pitches, and to keep him calm. He’ll be facing mature hitters who will wait for their pitch, and as a rookie, he won’t get a lot of calls his way. That has flustered him in the past.
That said, I think Kickham makes the most sense for this move. He’s got the best upside, is the most ready and has the best momentum. Odds: 5-to-2
Chad Gaudin: No doubt about it, he’s having the best season of his life. At 30 and in his 11th season in the majors, his 2.10 ERA so far is easily his best season mark in his career, but there’s a lot of season to go. Despite a three-run hiccup in Toronto, Gaudin has consistently been one of the best Giants’ relievers in the bullpen, going longer stints and shorter ones, and been a calming influence on games that the starters had sometimes let get out of control.
The downside is that starting is something from long ago for him, and he’s never been successful at it. He hasn’t started in the majors at all since 2009, and he’s never been particularly good at it. The last games he started in the minors were nine starts in 2009, and he had a 5.24 ERA overall in 14 appearances. His longest outing of the season was that three-run game in Toronto, where he threw 72 pitches; before that, he’d broken the plane of 35 pitches in an outing only once. The other side is that he is getting hit harder by lefties (.843 OPS against) than he did as a starter. In that 2009 season the OPS against was just .823.
Gaudin also gets points for being on the 40-man roster, unlike Kickham and Loux. He also gets points for having a chin beard, an intimidating addition to the Giants’ lineup of facial hair matchups.
I like Gaudin. He was a great pickup in the offseason, and I think the long relief role has been a great find for him. But it’s hard for me to see the Giants trying to stretch him out now. Odds: 7-to-2
Shane Loux: Loux, at least, is a known quantity to Giants fans. He made 19 appearances for the team in 2012, with a 4.97 ERA. But Loux doesn’t have a great Major League track record behind him. He’s played only parts of five seasons in the majors, racking up 58 appearances and 13 starts (none of which came with the Giants). However, he was a starter in Fresno in both 2011 and is again this season (notably working solely as a reliever last season).
Loux has made seven starts, putting up a 3.68 ERA. He’s had a fair mix of starts, both good and not-as-good He had his best, a six-inning start allowing just two hits, a walk and only an unearned run, this past Friday. However, to say he’s not overpowering is a bit of an understatement. He’s struck out only 15 batters in 36 2/3 innings, which is also how many he’s walked.
There’s no doubt that Loux is an underwhelming option. In the past, as a starter, he’s rarely been encouraging, though he has been recently. If this were a single, spot start, I’d be picking him. But for a longer stint, I think major league teams would be likely to adapt to him quickly. I don’t see it. Odds: 5-to-1
Chris Heston: The 25-year old Heston got a bit of a bandwagon going after winning the ERA title in the Double-A Eastern League last season, posting a 2.24 ERA. With 135 strikeouts in 148 2/3 innings, and just 40 walks, he seemed to be in line to be the fabled sixth starter-in-waiting.
However, his lack of velocity (he works in the upper 80’s as a right-hander) along with some possibly bad luck, and he’s run into trouble in Fresno. He has a 5.33 ERA in nine starts, and most notably, he’s getting hit around. His WHIP has jumped from 1.103 in Double-A to 1.658 so far in Fresno, both thanks to giving up more hits and more walks.
Heston’s not one to be given up on as a prospect quite yet, and he has a small thing going for him by being on the 40-man roster already, but he clearly isn’t ready for the majors yet. Odds: 15-to-1
Justin Fitzgerald: Now 27, the Santa Rosa native and UC Davis grad started the season in Richmond. He had a 1.09 ERA in six starts, and then moved up to Fresno, where in his only start he gave up two earned runs in five innings, albeit while giving up nine hits and two walks. What is unpalatable about this is that it was Fitzgerald’s third season at Richmond, which is rare for any prospect to manage without a major injury or rehab. At three repeats, a huge improvement is almost expected.
The 11th round pick has been nothing if not consistent the rest of his career, posting a slowly improving ERA that went from 3.86 in 2008 to 3.22 this season. He got some attention for flashing 95 MPH in college, but has been closer to the low-90’s as a pro. He’s just been steady, other than his unusual repetitions in Richmond.
Honestly, I’m going through this just to let you know who he is. Fitzgerald was placed on the DL by Fresno on Thursday, May 16th, and was expected to miss two turns at least with a right elbow strain. That means he’s pretty much unavailable right now. He might be a consideration down the line if the initial replacement struggles, but he’ll need to come back and prove he can handle some Triple-A starts first. Odds: 100-to-1 for now, 8-to-1 in mid-June.
Kyle Crick/Clayton Blackburn/Chris Stratton: I don’t need to separate any of these three out. All these top prospects are pitching at Single-A. Not only is that a fair indication of not being ready for the majors, but it also means their development is far off and that pushing anyone to the majors will start their options clock far too early. Some crazy KNBR callers may want to see them, but it ain’t happening: Odds: 113-to-1
Brian Wilson: Please. Odds: Slightly Better Than Finding Sasquatch