Hunter Strickland’s journey to baseball’s biggest stage is an interesting one.
When the Giants called him up in September, some folks were christening Strickland as the Giants’ new “closer of the future,” replacing the recently traded Heath Hembree.
Strickland was big. He threw hard (like 100 mph hard) and he threw strikes.
After a particularly impressive save outing of the 13th inning win over the Dodgers, even Giants closer Santiago Casilla was calling Strickland the Giants’ new closer.
Well, not so fast.
Before we document Strickland’s issue, let’s first look at his past.
Drafted in the 18th round of the 2007 draft, Strickland signed with the Red Sox right out of high school in Georgia.
In his days with the Red Sox, his fastball was reported to top out at 94 mph and be clocked regularly in the upper 80s to low 90s.
He had mixed results as a starting pitcher when he was traded in 2009 to the Pirates, who regarded him as a sleeper prospect.
After never rising abov high A-ball, he missed all of 2011 with shoulder problems.
He returned in 2012 and remained a starter for the Pirates’ A-ball team. He was promoted to Double-A midseason and moved to the bullpen.
He was added to the Pirates’ 40-man roster in November 2012, but designated for assignment at the end of spring training the following March. The Giants claimed him and sent him to Class A San Jose.
He was 1-0 with 0.86 ERA in 20 relief appearances before blowing out his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery in June. The Giants released him in July, but re-signed him to a minor-league deal in August.
He was back and throwing hard in spring training. He was sent to Double-A Richmond, where he was 1-1 with 2.02 ERA in 35.2 innings with 48 strikeouts and four walks when the Giants called him up in September when rosters expanded.
Now 26, Strickland made nine appearances in September, throwing 7 innings, giving up no runs on five hits with nine strikeouts and no walks. Right-handers hit .200 off him (3 for 15), as did lefties (2 for 10, 2B). However, righties struck out seven times while lefties whiffed just twice.
But in the postseason a serious hole has been exposed in Strickland.
In the postseason, right-handed batters are 1 for 10 with a walk and three strikeouts. Pretty good.
But against left-handers, well….
Lefties are 4 for 7 with four home runs and two strikeouts.
In the playoffs, manager Bruce Bochy has been using Strickland like a new toy, rolling him out in high-stress situations or to pitch a full inning. One of the homers Strickland gave up tied the game. The other, on Sunday night, gave the opponents the lead.
Maybe he needs to take another approach.
On Sunday, Bochy’s options were limited. Having exhausted his two lefties already, he brought in Strickland to face righty Matt Holiday to end the seventh. Strickland picked off Kolten Wong instead.
With the game tied, Bochy didn’t want to his pen again, so he stuck with Strickland. Strickland got Holliday out, then came lefty Matt Adams.
Strickland throws hard, but straight. And this is not Double-A. Big-league hitters can hit anything straight, even if it’s approaching 100 mph.
Against Adams, Strickland made a bad choice or bad pitch.
Unlike against the Nationals’ Bryce Harper, when Strickland fell behind 2-1 and 3-1, Strikland got ahead
Adams 1-2, dropping in a pair of sliders.
Strickland’s next pitch should have been OUT of the strike zone. Up high or outside. Maybe both. Show him the fastball. If he chases, great. If not, you set him up for another slider. If you walk him, big whoop. Go after righties Jhonny Peralta and Tony Cruz.
Instead he shot one straight down the middle, and Adams took him deep (SEE ABOVE PHOTO).
Strickland has to be smarter.
Bochy needs to be smarter.
If the matchup is right, go to Strickland. If not, find another option.
Play to his strengths. This is not the right time for on-the-job training.