The San Francisco Giants took a huge hit Saturday upon learning that closer Brian Wilson will likely miss the rest of the season with an elbow injury. This could lead to the second Tommy John surgery of the 30-year-old’s careerWilson, who missed parts of 2011 with a strained elbow, has shown declined velocity in his fastball every year since 2009. This could have been a sign of issues with Wilson’s arm, but most were focusing on Wilson’s 164 saves since 2008, the most of any pitcher over that time span, if they weren’t staring at his beard.
So, how will the Giants replace those saves for the rest of this season? This is where it gets tricky. When Wilson went down last season, Santiago Casilla got most of the saves with Ramon Ramirez getting a few as well. Ramirez is now with the Mets as a part of the Angel Pagan trade, so that will not be an option. Casilla, a nine-year veteran, could get a long look from manager Bruce Bochy, who says he will likely use a closer-by-committee situation.
Sergio Romo might have something to say about that, however. Romo, who is in only his fifth season, has been the Giants eighth-inning man for the past few seasons after coming on strong in 2010 with a 2.18 ERA in 62 innings pitched. He was hurt the last month of last season, just as Wilson was, making him unable to step into the closer role. He should be the guy to get the longest look from Bochy in the ninth.
Other guys who could get opportunities are lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. Affeldt, who was a closer for the Royals in 2004, has the most saves (25) of anyone in the bullpen besides Wilson. He could get a look, although he has only seven saves in the past five seasons.
Lopez most likely won’t get a long look as he is used primarily as a lefty specialist. However, since coming to the Giants, Lopez has been rejuvenated lowering his ERA from 9.26 in 2009 to 2.34 in 2010. He doesn’t seem to be wearing down in his 11th season, pitching the third most innings of his career in 2011 and the most for a team that didn’t make the playoffs. Lopez will likely get save opportunities when facing multiple left-handed hitters.
Heath Hembree, who is the closer at triple-A Fresno, will likely be called up to replace the hole in the bullpen created by Wilson. Hembree, who led the minors in saves last season with 38, has 43 saves in three seasons with the Giants organization. Many believe that if the Giants don’t retain Wilson when he is a free agent after the 2013 season, Hembree will move into the closer role. It’s possible he could get that chance a couple years early.