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A slightly closer look at Mark Melancon’s return

There’s no recent photo of him, so let’s use this instant classic. Look at that punim.

San Francisco Giants v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Mark Melancon returned to the mound this afternoon and pitched like a $20 million pitcher. Baseball takes far more than it gives, no matter how tough or prepared a player might be, and yet we witnessed a guy who had been in and out of competition and off and on in terms of health and reliability come in and pitched practically to the peak of his abilities with no trouble at all.

Just like the Giants did with Will Smith, they’re going to bring him back slowly, in low leverage situations, so if you’re grousing about how he looks because he “only” pitched in the seventh inning of a 5-1 game, consider adjusting your attitude... just like I should.

I’ve written so many articles about the possibility of Melancon returning from surgery this season and not one of them had a scintilla of hope. The most recent article spewed all this crud:

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):


“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.


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.

But that was 11 days ago. Buster Posey has hit 2 home runs in that span. The Giants were 2 games under .500 and 2 games out of first place. They’re now 1 game under .500 and... 2.5 games out of first place. But still! The point remains! A lot can happen in a short amount of time.

For instance, the last report we had concerning his performance was this tweet from 12 days ago:

But today’s appearance showed a cutter in the 89-90 mph range, a bit off what Brooks Baseball tells us his average for that pitch has been, historically (91 mph), but effective nonetheless. He struck out the side all thanks to curveball, which looked exactly like the plus out-pitch it has always been with a sharp 12-to-6 break.

Here’s a quick spin through those three hitters he faced.

Aaron Altherr

His first pitch was a 90 mph cutter down and away that hit the corner perfectly. Just a beautiful pitch. So, right out the gate, he flashed his closer control. He followed that up with two more cutters before basically bouncing his curveball right on the middle-top of home plate itself to get Altherr on a check swing. Altherr had a golden sombrero today, but I think that only adds to what Melancon did. He exploited a struggling hitter. He also looked sharp while doing so. I don’t think a struggling pitcher dispatches Altherr quite so easily.

Mitch Walding

Admittedly, I am basing this entire analysis on what my eyes saw, and right now, there are doctors out there who are gravely concerned about my vision, but in the meantime, from what I could see, it sure looked like Melancon used his cutter exclusively before dropping in his curveball. If I’m right, then Melancon went cutter, cutter, cutter, cutter and then dropped that curveball down and in to the left-handed hitting Walding.

Cesar Hernandez

Four cutters and then this beauty:

He pitched with a nice pace, threw strikes, and flashed better control than most of the pitchers in the bullpen. If he’s lost a tick on his velocity, it might be a problem later in the season and especially in the later innings of tight games, but if we, right now, consider that he’s replacing Cory Gearrin’s innings, then the Giants will find themselves with the bullpen they’d hoped for, only built a bit backwards from what they’d planned.

Baseball takes far more than it gives, but when it gives let’s just take it.