Giants ready to lean on homegrown bullpen

Pitching and defense: It’s what the Giants are known for.

But behind the stars in the rotation, and the defensive wizards assembled all over the diamond, the bullpen should be valued as equally important San Francisco’s success in 2016.

After upgrading the outfield and starting rotation through free agency, the Giants will lean on a home-grown bullpen for this year’s team.

Part of the problem in 2015 was the Giants 19-28 record in one-run games, contests the Giants seemed to revel in during the “torture” days when they first started winning titles. One-run games can be fluky, and a strong bullpen can be the difference late in games holding a close lead.

Aside from longtime Giants relievers like Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, and Santiago Casilla, bigger roles beckon for younger pitchers like Hunter Strickland, George Kontos, and rookie Josh Osich.

Kontos, 30, enjoyed his first full season in the majors last year going 4-4 with a 2.33 ERA in 73-1/3 innings. Before departing the Bay Area for Spring Training, Kontos applauded the organization’s moves to bring in impact starting pitchers to eat up early innings and lighten the bullpen’s workload:

“The front office has made a really good job of putting talent on the field. They [Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto] are both guys who are great pitchers, quality pitchers’, guys who go out there and can throw 200 innings. If that lightens the load on us, then that’s great.”

Gone from the bullpen is retired 36-year-old Jeremy Affeldt, who had spent the last seven of his 14-year major league seasons as a mainstay and clutch performer in the Giants bullpen.

Though last season wasn’t up to his usual reliable self, posting a 5.86 ERA, his highest as a Giant, his ability to face both lefties and righties late in games will surely be missed, along with all the experience that comes with being a three-time champion.

Another departure from last year’s bullpen is big righty Yusmeiro Petit, who agreed to a one-year contract with the Washington Nationals this offseason. Petit performed admirably well in the long reliever or sixth starter role the past few seasons, posting a 3.67 ERA in 76 innings in 2015.

In line to replace Petit is last season’s surprise pitcher Chris Heston. Heston, 27, was strong for most of last season as a starter — including a no-hitter against the New York Mets — though he struggled late to finish with a 3.95 ERA in 31 games started.

Heston also loves the front office moves and says the new pitchers will motivate him to try and match their level on the field by saying:

“I think adding two quality arms like that is going to be huge for us. To see these guys come in with all their accolades it kind of pushes you to keep up a little bit.”

Heston however doesn’t think the switch will be to dramatic, and plans to prepare for the season in a new role in the same way as if he were still a starter. Heston said:

“No its the same thing, right now its just about getting ready for the season, getting strong, getting yourself a good platform to succeed. It will be fun and whatever my role may be I’ll be ready for spring and trying to do well.”