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Mark Melancon gets closer to returning, but won’t return to closing

The beleaguered reliever will try to come back as a middle inning heaver.

St Louis Cardinals v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Mark Melancon’s return to the 25-man roster is two weeks away, just as soon as he can demonstrate the ability to pitch in back-to-back games without experiencing any pain in his surgically repaired forearm. The Giants’ optimism comes entirely from the in-the-moment result of “Hey, he’s able to pitch and when he does, he’s pitching well”, but literally seven weeks ago, this was his condition:

Per Kerry Crowley of the Bay Area News Group, Melancon said the pain he is feeling now is “very similar” to what he felt last year. As Crowley notes, an MRI revealed inflammation in his flexor. Melancon, at the moment, can’t throw from 30 feet without feeling pain.

There’s absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t try to make a comeback, and I think any decent human being supports the effort, but from the extreme remove of an SB Nation site, it looks highly unlikely Mark Melancon will come anywhere close to returning to his All-Star closer form because the chances of him making it through an entire season again a DL stint for forearm trouble is more improbable than Kelby Tomlinson hitting 10 home runs this season.

The basis for this mean-sounding belief comes entirely from this passage in John Shea’s article on Melancon published March 1st (you better believe the emphasis is mine):

Tell a baseball fan someone’s undergoing Tommy John surgery or anterior cruciate ligament surgery, and the fan should have at least a rough idea of the process. But pronator surgery? It’s rare. And doctors discovered a scary surprise in Melancon’s arm during the procedure.

“Well,” Melancon said, “my pronator muscle was basically getting pinched off or squeezed off where there was a lack of blood flow and oxygen getting to the muscle. And in turn, it was dying.

When they went in there, that muscle had turned gray. It wasn’t completely dead but over time, it was dying. The doctor was shocked when he saw the grayness. His hope is that it turns back to the normal reddish color.

“He doesn’t know how long it’ll take. He’s optimistic about it. (Surgery was) to decompress and cut that fascia and allow that muscle to expose itself and have more oxygen and blood flow.”

It’s not good when muscles are dying. It’s not good when you go through the surgery and still have pain after a few weeks of testing it out.

Anyway, here’s an extremely graphic video of the pronator surgery. In this patient’s arm, the tendon is purple-ish. Again, Melancon’s had turned gray, which to me suggests a condition beyond distress. A part of me that feels like the Giants want to rush him back now just to force a decision in their minds about whether or not it makes more sense to cut ties with the player, contract be damned.

But I’ve been wrong before.

Maybe Kelby Tomlinson will hit 10 home runs this season.

The Giants will certainly take a back end of the bullpen with Dyson, Smith, Melancon, Watson, and Strickland. I’m putting him above Dyson for the moment for a very obvious reason: the Giants have invested a whole lot of money in him and it’s not a good look to save a $20 million pitcher for 6th innings of 11-1 blowouts. Also, the team has already said:

“It will probably be like last year (when he returned from injury), earlier innings and we’ll see where he’s at and how he’s feeling and how he’s throwing,” manager Bruce Bochy said over the weekend.

So, again, figure we’ll see him after Dyson but before Watson and Strickland. If he can stay healthy and be solid, and if Strickland slips at all, I’m sure we’ll see him as the closer before the end of June. Still, it feels foolish to trust his health.

A Mark Melancon who’s 75% of peak Mark Melancon might just be an upgrade over Pierce Johnson or Reyes Moronta; although, we can never put it past the Giants to decide it’s worth carrying 14 pitchers for a couple of weeks, either.

Without complimentary starting pitching, a lights out bullpen might not matter in a playoff race, but I’ll take having a lights out bullpen over not having a lights out bullpen in order to find that out.