SAN FRANCISCO -- Together, they form one of the league's best bullpens. Individually, the latest standout Giants relievers all are pieces that could have been had by any of the teams they're now shutting down.
Yusmeiro Petit was released twice last season, clearing waivers both times. David Huff has been designated for assignment three times in the past 13 months. Juan Gutierrez was still looking for a team this January. At this time three years ago, Jean Machi was pitching in the Mexican League.
Along with two-time World Champions Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla, the newcomers have solidified the late innings. The Giants have the second-lowest bullpen ERA (2.05) and opponents' batting average (.203) in the majors and lead the way with nine relief wins. In 87 2/3 innings, Giants relievers have issued an MLB-low 22 walks.
What's in the bullpen's snack backpack that's turning castoffs into contributors?
"You come here and they don't expect you to be anything other than yourself," Huff said. "It's a comforting feeling, a relaxing feeling. (Pitching coach Dave) Righetti came up to me in spring training and said, 'Just be yourself."
For the 29-year-old Huff -- who had a 3.86 ERA before a quad strain put him on the disabled list -- that meant going back to his natural arm slot, one that was changed by the Cleveland Indians. For Gutierrez, 30, that meant shaking off a lackluster Giants debut (four hits and two runs in two innings) after Righetti pulled him aside, pointed out a simple mechanical flaw and reminded him to pitch to his strengths, namely a 97 mph fastball. He has a 1.74 ERA in his last 10 appearances and has stranded all seven runners he has inherited, helping to allay a major issue for last season's middle relievers.
The coaching staff steadfastly backed Petit after rough spring outings, with Bochy preemptively telling reporters that the dry air in Arizona would be tougher on the 29-year-old than most. He has a 2.61 ERA and was sharp in a spot start.
There's one case in the current pen where Righetti changed the "be yourself" tune. He told the 32-year-old Machi to be like one of the best relievers to ever wear orange and black.
"If you look at his delivery, it's a lot like Rod Beck's," Righetti said, bringing up the closer who saved 286 games. "They're built alike -- really thick legs and butt area, and very strong. They have to pitch a little differently and get it done. They're two guys with great off-speed pitches, too.
"I kind of just put him in my eyes when I talk to Machi about his style. I try not to tell him he's got to lose 40 pounds and get perfect. He is what he is."
Through the season's first month, Machi is 4-0 with a 0.66 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. He's also a shining example of another theme that runs through the bullpen: Nearly every member of the group that gets the ball to Romo has at some level faced ninth-inning pressure.
Casilla (39 career saves), Affeldt (28) and Lopez (13) have done it for the Giants. Gutierrez had 24 saves for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009-10 and has closed in winter ball. Machi has 41 career saves in the Venezuelan Winter League.
"They're not afraid," Bochy said. "They're used to being out there with the game on the line, which helps because we play a lot of close games."
Bochy's Giants have been that way for years, but those tense nights didn't harden this current crop. Romo is the only member of the bullpen who was drafted by the Giants. The inability to consistently stock the pen from within has led to a come one, come all approach. The Giants traded for George Kontos just before the 2012 season and he ended up on the World Series roster. A year ago, Chad Gaudin beat out veterans Scott Proctor and Ramon Ramirez and turned into a valuable swingman. Gutierrez, who chose the Giants' offer over the Indians' and Tampa Bay Rays', and Huff, who was acquired from the New York Yankees for cash considerations, were this year's surprises.
Righetti credits the front office for finding intriguing arms every year and the organization's scouts and minor league coaches for generating reports that ring true when new players are brought into camp each February. He believes that somewhere around 90 percent of guys bouncing around the waiver wire and Triple-A still have the raw stuff to succeed in a big league bullpen. It's just a matter of finding the right goal, and then "you just pump them up "� you keep them fired up and make them feel at home," Righetti said.
"We're very open minded," he added. "My job is, the minute they come in here, to make them feel comfortable and give them a chance. You might get one of these guys to get hot, or two of them, and get fortunate.
"You give them a chance. After that, it's up to them."
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