Shaun Anderson Gets a Shot to Close for Banged-up Giants Bullpen

SAN FRANCISCO -- Every night, win or lose, the Giants starter talks to reporters in front of a small wall covered with team logos. It's been a while since Shaun Anderson was called up there, and he smiled as reporters and cameras gathered late Tuesday night. 

"Funny to be back up here," Anderson said. 

You rarely find yourself surrounded by the media when you're pitching the sixth inning. But Anderson, a starter for much of the season, is back in the spotlight after working his way up in the bullpen pecking order. On Tuesday night he was the closer, and that may be the case for a bit longer. 

Will Smith had an MRI on his troublesome back Tuesday morning, and while it came back clean, the Giants aren't sure when Smith will return to the mound. For now, they're relying on younger relievers late in games, and Anderson will be part of that. After the rookie closed out a 5-4 win over the Pirates, manager Bruce Bochy said Anderson's role has shifted. 

"It's good to have him there (in the ninth) and we needed him," Bochy said. "What a nice job he did. He's comfortable there because of his experience pitching out of the bullpen. You look at how he's thrown the ball and we talked about it, that he would be the guy. He's got the experience there and he's got the weapons and the mentality to do it. I think you'll see him pitch later in the game now."

This is nothing new for Anderson. The staff at the University of Florida was so loaded with future top draft picks that the right-hander ended up being a closer, not a starter. He had 13 saves as a junior with a 0.97 ERA. 

Anderson was converted back to starting in the minors and the Giants were hopeful he could be a cost-effective rotation solution. But he was struggling even before a blister put him on the Injured List, and he has returned as a reliever, at least for now. Anderson entered Tuesday's game with a 3.86 ERA as a reliever and opened eyes over the weekend with a dominant frame against the Dodgers. He was sharp again Tuesday, showing increased velocity on his fastball -- mostly 95-96 mph out of the 'pen -- and a slider that's devastating in short bursts. He also showed that he wants this opportunity. 

"His tenacity, his demeanor, is very closer-ish," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "It's pretty impressive for a kid who got sent to the bullpen a few weeks ago. He wanted to close."

This is a short-term solution for a bullpen that has lost every notable arm to trade or injury. But it also could be part of the long-term plan. Smith will be a free agent, Tony Watson is likely to opt out of his deal, and Reyes Moronta may miss all of 2020 after shoulder surgery. The Giants have a completely blank slate as they put together their next bullpen, and while veterans will be brought in, a young pitcher or two will need to step up and grab a marquee role. 

The Giants have not publicly committed to shifting Anderson from starting to relieving full-time. But if he is in the bullpen, Anderson knows what inning he wants to pitch. 

"I think anyone who is in the bullpen wants those situations," he said of being the closer. "I'm ready for those situations. I'm hoping they give me opportunities. It was awesome closing in the big leagues. It's a big deal."

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