Look at Giants’ roster battles, part II: The bullpen

FILE – In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Mark Melancon throws during spring baseball practice in Scottsdale, Ariz. The closer got a big free-agent contract from the Giants. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

In the past years, Giants manager Bruce Bochy has generally chosen to break camp with an eight-man bullpen and a four-man bench.

But this year, the schedule is a bit more favorable. The Giants open on Sunday, April 2, get April 3 off, and then play games over the next 13 days before getting two days off around a two-day trip to Kansas City.

The Giants first 14 games are played in Arizona, San Diego and San Francisco, meaning a call to Sacramento will be quick and convenient if reserves are needed. So the Giants may opt for the more traditional 7-man bullpen.

Working off that premise, let’s start building a bullpen. We’ll begin with the gimmes: Closer Mark Melancon, righties Derek Law and Hunter Strickland and lefty Will Smith – although Smith has been slowed this spring by elbow soreness. Smith expects to pitch in games later this week, which should give him time to be ready by opening day. Still, it’s something to watch.

Assuming Smith will be ready, that leaves three spots left. And as I can’t remember a time when the Giants didn’t have at least two lefties in the pen, we’ll assume one of those three spots goes to a lefty.

And the lefty candidates include Josh Osich, Steven Okert and non-roster invitee Mark Reynolds. Osich made a solid debut in 2015 but struggled last year, leading the Giants to acquire Smith. Okert impressed in his September call-up with his 14 Ks in 14 innings. Reynolds seems like a candidate for Triple-A. The edge here has to go to Okert.

That leaves two spots left to righties. The candidates are George Kontos, Cory Gearrin, Albert Suarez and non-roster invitees David Hernandez and Bryan Morris. None of these players can be sent to Triple-A, at least without their consent. Kontos, Gearrin and Suarez would need to clear waivers.

Conventional thinking is that the last two righty spots will go to Kontos and Gearrin. But that would leave the Giants without a long man in the pen.

And that’s where Ty Blach could be a factor. Assuming Cain claims the No. 5 starter job, the Giants could opt to keep the lefty starter in the pen as a potential long man option, but also a sixth-inning guy or used against a specific righty.

If we had to make a call right now, we’d say the final bullpen spots go to Kontos, Gearrin and Blach, with Okert in the wings if Smith has any continuing elbow issues.

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