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Mark Melancon’s elbow is sore, so why is he pitching?

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Pitching through injuries isn’t something anyone on the 2017 Giants should have to do.

San Francisco Giants v Colorado Rockies Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

It used to be a running gag that when I was gone, the Giants won. Here, look at these headlines from last year’s vacation:

Giants get ruthlessly dingered upon, shrug, win anyway

Giants win 5-3, finish kicking Pirates while they're down

After further review, Giants still win

Can you even imagine? Oh, what a simpler time. Back when even-year shenanigans were definitely real and the Giants were one of the better teams in baseball. It’s been a rough year, friends. And apparently the Giants are absolutely horrific now. Just the worst.

I checked a box score twice during my vacation. Both of them made me laugh hysterically. You can guess which games they were. And you’d better believe that I’m scheduling next year’s vacation during the trips to Coors Field, too.

Anyway, back to the Giants being one of the worst baseball teams we’ve watched since ... well, ever. The Giants are on pace for 103 losses, which would be a franchise record. I’m starting to wonder if this might not be their season. And if this isn’t their season, these sorts of updates come with a different meaning. From Andrew Baggarly:

Melancon claimed after the game that he felt fine, but he had acknowledged earlier in the series that he wasn’t sure if he could pitch on consecutive days. Describing the the elbow tendonitis that sent him to the disabled list earlier in the season, he said he was “good enough to be out there.”

There are levels to baseball injuries. “Good enough to be out there” is definitely one of those levels. Every baseball player is hurting right now. Even the young ones. Something’s sore, something’s off, something’s tweaked. This is true of the baseball player you’re thinking of right now. This is true of the baseball player you’ll think of after that. They’re all hurting in some way.

When it comes to a reliever, though, another one of the levels is “isn’t sure if he can pitch on consecutive days.” This is a more concerning level. This is a step up from the regular ol’ baseball injury that’s caused by the daily grind.

If Melancon’s arm is really making him question if he can pitch in consecutive outings, here’s my recommendation from the comfort of my couch: Maybe don’t pitch?

It’s silly for several reasons to shut down every good player with an ouchie in a lost season. The first one that comes to mind is that it’s not like they go into a hyperbolic sleep chamber and come out with just as much baseball left in their bodies. If Madison Bumgarner is healthy enough to pitch this season, I want him back. Not only are Giants games much more watchable with him on the mound, but I want him to shake the rust off, to build the muscle memory back up. Packing it up and hoping he’s the same pitcher next spring seems like a lot of unnecessary pressure to put on him and the organization. And it’s less fun, too.

When it comes to elbow pain, though, the rules of engagement have shifted. A barking elbow, even if it comes with a clean MRI? Nope. Not for this team. Not for this season. Let that thing bark until it loses its voice, and don’t poke a stick at it for no reason.

Now, I’m just a dippy blogger, and I’m not texting back and forth with Dave Groeschner about what’s really going on. This might be something Melancon has pitched through for years, something that flares up every June, in which case these concerns are overblown. That’s fine. It’s my job to overreact and come with the hot takes.

But here’s what we know right now:

  • The Giants owe Mark Melancon a lot of money, and in exchange, they’re hoping he’ll be the closer for at least a couple more years.
  • Even before the elbow issues became public, his trade value was nil because of the contract and the performance. A team like the Nationals, say, wouldn’t give up prospects for a struggling, expensive closer and announce to their fans that everything was fixed now.
  • This means that Melancon is going to be the Giants’ preferred option to close ballgames for the indefinite future.
  • The Giants don’t really need anyone to close for them this year. It would save some frustration, but that’s about it. A functioning super-closer is a cosmetic benefit for this team, not a necessity.
  • The Giants are just incredibly bad. Not sure if I’ve mentioned that, but I can’t get over it!

So while it’s too simplistic to suggest that Melancon shut it down for the season and start next year fresh, it’s probably not out of the question to hope that the Giants treat him like, say, the Dodgers would with Julio Urias. If that guy has elbow pain severe enough to limit his back-to-back appearances, a flashing red siren goes off in the front offices of Dodger Stadium, and a Special Ops team is dispatched to encase the elbow in adamantium. They are not going to mess around and take risks.

If the Giants are willing to let Melancon pitch, even though, he’s worried that he can’t pitch on consecutive days, the question is why? Like Ricky Watters said years ago, “For what? For whom?” Who benefits? How does this strategy help the Giants build their next contending team?

I have a suspicion that none of those rhetorical questions have a great answer. Which means that it’s probably time to watch less Mark Melancon. While it’s easy to make snide jokes about that prospect after Sunday’s meltdown, it really is something of a bummer. I had high hopes for him this season, and I’m still not convinced he’s this bad.

That’s the perfect metaphor for the Giants’ season, then. Let’s make sure he’s healthy just in case this nuclear winter doesn’t last for 20 years.