On Friday, after the gates opened on the Giants home season, I watched the Giants relievers warm up and run wind sprints during batting practice. Brian Wilson was joking around with his teammates, smiling as if nothing was wrong.
But beneath the surface, something was terribly wrong.
News broke Saturday, hours before Emmanuel Burriss scored the winning run on a throwing error, that Wilson may need season-ending surgery on his pitching elbow.
It’s a devastating blow to not only the Giants, but to Wilson. If he indeed needs another Tommy John procedure — he had Tommy John surgery almost 10 years ago when the Giants drafted him — we won’t see The Beard on the mound until at least this time next year, if not later. Recovery time is 12 to 18 months.
The Giants have already acknowledged that they think Wilson needs surgery, but they will send him to see Dr. James Andrews —the last person a pitcher wants to visit — for a second opinion.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy told The Oakland Tribune’s Carl Steward:
“After the tests, it doesn’t look very good right now. He’ll get a couple more opinions, but he’s likely facing surgery, to be honest.”
With Wilson, the Giants had a deep bullpen. Without him, they still have a solid pen, but guys will now be forced to shuffle around, out of their comfortable roles. Set-up men Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo are the logical candidates to close games for the foreseeable future.
Moving Casilla and Romo from the 7th and 8th innings to the 8th and 9th means that everyone else in the bullpen has to step up.
Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez now have to eat up late innings. Dan Otero and Clay Hensley may now see more time early in games if the starters get knocked out.
Of course, if the Giants want to leave everyone in their current roles, they could turn to the closer of the future, Heath Hembree, the No. 3 prospect in the system according to Baseball America and No. 2 according to ESPN’s Keith Law.
Drafted by the Giants in 2010, Hembree has flown through the minors. After pitching 12 games in rookie ball in 2010, Hembree started 2011 at High-A San Jose, racking up 21 saves and an 0.73 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched. Those numbers earned him a promotion to Double-A Richmond, where he saved 17 games.
So far this season, he has pitched three scoreless innings and recorded two saves for Triple-A Fresno. It wasn’t the Giants plan to bring him up this early, but a catastrophic injury like Wilson’s might force the Giants to abandon their plans.