Pinch Blogging: Javier Lopez
With Belt on the DL, we’re taking turns filling in, so here I am. I’m not a social media guy. I don’t do Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or whatever else is out there. But I thought it might be interesting to tell you a little about the bullpen.
Relievers are kind of a family within a family. Like our own band of brothers. We know we’ll be facing some pretty stressful situations later in the game, so in the early innings we keep things really loose and light-hearted. We’ll bring up some topic — maybe current events, something that happened the night before, something in the game at the moment — and we get the banter going.
Let’s say Santiago Casilla made a nice play on a come-backer the night before. He’s normally not a great fielder, so we start making fun of him for that. And he gets playfully defensive about it.
You can imagine the field day we had with Machi after his bunt in Pittsburgh. We all know he’s a good athlete even if he doesn’t look it, but we kidded him about not knowing how to hold the bat and about chugging down the baseline to first. Casilla promptly said he was faster than Machi, and Machi countered that not only was he faster than Casilla, he was the fastest in the bullpen.
I chime in and say I can take either of them. So someone says, “OK, we’ll have a footrace.’’
You’ll be relieved to know cooler heads prevailed. One of us would have gotten hurt, no question. (This is where I could take a cheap shot at Affeldt, but you’re already thinking it so I don’t have to.)
In any event, Machi was upset he didn’t get a hit on the bunt.
“A hit?’’ we said. “The ball beat you to the bag! How is that a hit?’’
You get the idea.
This is a different bullpen than I’ve been a part of. It’s very international with a lot of Venezuelans. There are no cliques. That’s one of the things that makes it pretty special. We spend some time learning English, some time learning Spanish. Casilla is one of my favorites because he genuinely tries to learn English. He’s always learning a couple of new phrases, and he has a few he goes to all the time.
The Venezuelan guys tell a lot of stories about the winter league down there. Machi told me Panda doesn’t talk in the Venezuelan league. He is not vocal at all, contrary to the singing, laughing character we see (and hear) in our locker room. Machi said it’s because there’s a pretty strict hierarchy down there, and Panda’s still considered a young guy. I found this hard to believe, but Gutierrez and Petit said it was true.
It’s kind of the reverse for Machi here: He doesn’t have a lot of time in the big leagues, so he doesn’t talk a lot. He’s talkative around us, but if you were to walk into the locker room he’s a pretty quiet guy.
Another thing I didn’t know that I learned in the bullpen: Even though Machi has been a closer in Venezuela for four years, he didn’t have a save in the big leagues. I had just assumed last year he must have gotten one with us at some point. (Shows you how much I really remember about our games.) He already had five wins but he really, really wanted a save in the big leagues. And he got one during the last road trip in LA. To see him do it, knowing how much it meant to him, was pretty neat.
So all this talking among the relievers is great, but what if there is no bullpen, like here at AT&T Park? The joking and laughing don’t go over real well in the dugout. We have to be kind of careful. At the start of the game, we park ourselves at the far left of the dugout, up by the rail. The coaches are at the opposite end, and the position players are usually on the bench against the wall.
At some point, we usually make our way to a small room at the bottom of the stairs (behind the dugout), where we can watch the game on TV and not bother anyone.
I don’t want you to think we don’t talk about baseball. We talk about situations that might have come up the previous night, and maybe there’s a similar situation today and Bochy has decided to go with a different pitcher. We’ll talk about different strategies and ask each other what we’d do against this hitter or that one. It’s always good to have Plan A but sometimes you need Plan B, C and D. So it’s nice to bounce stuff off each other.
The best thing about our bullpen is that we realize we’re in this together, and we have each other’s backs.
Thanks for reading. Now when you see a shot of us on TV in the early innings, you know we’re enjoying each other’s company and keeping things loose. Until the bullpen phone rings and everything changes.