SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Bruce Bochy likes to tell his players to “wash it off” when they have a rough moment or game, but after Hunter Strickland’s first two outings this spring, the Giants had to wonder how many more hypothetical baths the rookie could take.
After allowing a record six homers in the postseason, Strickland gave up bombs in his first two spring training appearances. Anything else — a brief loss of command, a string of doubles — might have been easier to swallow.
“Obviously it’s frustrating, but you can’t read into it,” Strickland said. “We’re here to work on things and that’s what the spring is for. It’s part of the game. Obviously I learned it from last year. If you make mistakes they’re going to capitalize on it.”
Strickland showed an ability to move on last October, and he did the same thing this spring. The Giants like his mental toughness, and Strickland quickly put the rough start behind him. Of his final nine appearances of the spring, eight were scoreless. The one rough inning was a string of seeing-eye hits and broken bats, not homers.
Strickland was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento on Sunday, but the Giants still believe he’s a big part of their future. Coaches and talent evaluators say he needs to improve his fastball command and sharpen a slider that can keep hitters off his 100 mph fastball, and Strickland is working to alleviate both issues. He would be particularly helped by better command on the inner half of the strike zone. It was clear last October that hitters were leaning far out over the plate.
“They’re definitely comfortable,” Strickland said. “That could be a factor in it.”
To keep hitters off balance, Strickland has slightly tweaked the grip on his slider. He also throws a split-change to mix it up. Big league hitters taught Strickland last October that a 100 mph fastball isn’t a world-beater if the hitter is geared for it. It was a painful lesson, and he said he didn’t need a refresher course as the 2015 season approached. He didn’t force himself to go back and watch the fall homers.
“I knew what I did,” he said. “I knew that I didn’t make the pitch and that’s where all the frustration is, with myself. You’ve just got to upset the timing. That’s the key. Just mix it up. You’ve got to have a short memory in this game, for sure, especially as a reliever. We’ve got to be ready each day. Once something happens, you put it past you and learn from it and you go from there.”