By Morris Phillips
Mark Melancon is the thinking man’s athlete, not unlike a computer in how he forms and remembers pitch sequences that more than often get big league hitters out on their final at-bat of a game.
Not just a thrower, the premiere closer in the National League over the previous four seasons, has a fastidious routine, a philosophy on how to get hitters out, and more than a decade of experience in the closer’s role dating back to his freshman year at the University of Arizona.
So after Sunday’s meltdown in the season opener in which he retired the first two hitters he faced, then allowed hits to the next four and lost the game, it’s simply back to work, and back to tried and true methods for Melancon.
“It’s something that’s just part of the job,” Melancon said of his letdown against the Diamondbacks. “I’m sure I’ll go over it 100 times and keep the good and get rid of the bad.”
Melancon first spoke to the Giants on November 8, less than two weeks after the Cubs finished their magical run to the World Series title. On December 5, he agreed to his then record $62 million deal with the Giants, the first free agent closer to sign a deal this off-season.
The Giants needed a guy they could trust after a franchise-record 30 games were blown in 2016. And Melancon, again methodical in his approach to free agency, just as he is on gameday, recognized the appeal of San Francisco, after he had bounced around from the Yankees in his 2009 big-league debut to the Astros, Red Sox, Pirates and Nationals in the succeeding seasons.
Consequently, a marriage this well bonded doesn’t fall into a rocky stage overnight. Thus, the club and its treasured acquisition go back to work on Tuesday.
Here’s a look at Melancon’s meteoric rise to prominence starting with his trade to Pittsburgh in the off-season prior to the 2013 season.
In 2013, Melancon starts the season as the Pirates’ setup guy following his trade acquisition from the Red Sox. After closer Jason Grilli is injured, Melancon assumes his role and saves 16 games. During this period, the pitcher credits catcher Russell Martin for giving him the unyielding belief in his best pitch, a mid-90’s cutter.
In 2014, the Pirates trade Grilli to the Angels, giving Melancon the permanent closer’s role. He converts 33 of 37 save opportunities.
In 2015, Melancon leads the NL with 51 saves, and makes his second All-Star appearance. He wins the NL reliever of the year award.
In 2016, the Pirates trade Melancon to the Nationals with his impending free agency. Melancon helps the Nats capture the NL East crown. He converts 47 of 51 save chances for the Pirates and Nationals combined.