SAN DIEGO – Mike Murphy, the Giants’ longtime clubhouse manager, doesn’t open his mouth to venture many personal opinions.
“I don’t bother nobody,” is his fallback phrase.
But after five decades, you’d better believe that Murph wields influence. And he has a way of making statements.
He made one Tuesday, opting to reissue Brian Wilson’s No.38 to right-hander Heath Hembree, who arrived in a big league clubhouse for the first time. Wilson, now a Dodger, didn’t get much of a waiting period before his number was thrown into the recycling bin.
“Ooooh! 38!” said Sergio Romo, as Hembree talked with reporters at his locker Tuesday.
The number is also a reflection on what the Giants think of Hembree, a 24-year-old top prospect who had an outside chance to win a bullpen spot this spring but needed a bit more seasoning.
He got it at Triple-A Fresno, where he saved a franchise-record 31 games and gathered the maturity to know he couldn’t just throw his firm fastball all day long.
Hembree struggled to a 7.84 ERA in June and wasn’t ready when the Giants needed a right-hander to replace Santiago Casilla following his surgery to remove a bone cyst. At the time, GM Brian Sabean said Hembree “didn’t have a secondary pitch.”
He did. He just hadn’t learned to trust them yet.
“I just had to learn to pitch with it,” he said. “I started using my secondary pitches more – different situations, different counts. You get people off your fastball. The whole year, I felt good. I felt I put a consistent year together.”
There’s nothing wrong with 63 strikeouts and just 16 walks in 55 1/3 innings, that’s for sure. But Hembree credits his solid year, which included 31 save conversions out of 36, with more than trusting his slider and changeup.
“I’m more upset about the five I blew than the 31 I got,” he said. “But that’s a learning process. It’s keeping confidence and knowing you don’t have to go back to the drawing board (after a loss). Your stuff’s good enough. I felt this year I was a lot more mentally mature than last year.”
No, he won’t grow a beard to match his No.38. He does have closer entrance music, though. The Top Gun theme was picked for him by a Grizzlies employee, and while he likes it, he sounds like he wouldn't care if he came out to the Sesame Street theme.
As for his time in the Giants organization with Wilson, another power fastball/slider guy, Hembree said they didn’t interact much last spring or talk about pitching. He hasn’t consulted anyone about the mentality of pitching in late relief. It’s just something he’s gone out and done.
Wilson did buy Hembree a suit one spring, though. It wasn’t made of spandex, either.
“That was nice of him,” Hembree said.
Nothing is more fashionable than a big league jersey, though. Hembree, who is from South Carolina, got the news of his call-up in time to alert his parents, Rick and Connie, and his sister, Kelly, so they could hop on a flight and get to San Diego in time for Tuesday’s game.
Such is the life of a reliever that Hembree doesn’t know when he’ll make his debut. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he’d try to ease in the right-hander with a middle inning soon. Even if he appears at Petco Park, the Hembree family is planning to stick around and go to San Francisco for a few more days this weekend.