Teammates Derek Law and Cody Hall reflect on good times in San Jose
It was the bottom of the seventh at [insert California League stadium here]. San Jose led [insert California League team here] in a tight ballgame. The point is, it didn’t matter in which stadium or which team they were playing, really. The bottom line was simple.
They didn’t want it.
2013 in the San Jose Giants bullpen was at times a carousel of prospects, but regardless of the players that occupied the bench, it felt like a pack of caged dogs. And that’s just the way they liked it.
“By the time I got there it was a pretty big thing,” Giants prospect Derek Law said. “It was kind of like a fraternity. I had to get my first strikeout before I was considered a member. And then I got a t-shirt. I felt official after that.”
The “Dog Pound” was no ordinary bullpen. The space was a breeding ground for shutdown relievers who aided San Jose to a first-half championship and an 83-57 overall record.
“We barked at each other,” Law said.
It all started with San Jose reliever Bryce Bandilla — a big left-hander who wowed hitters all season with 72 strikeouts in 44.1 innings. In need of a name for the bullpen, he looked to the unique configuration of the Single-A clubs home — Municipal Stadium.
“If you ever look at San Jose, the bullpen is kind of in a caged area,” Giants prospect Cody Hall said.
That was all they needed. “Dog Pound” stuck and transformed the group of 20-somethings with major-league aspirations into the most feared bullpen in the California League.
“That bullpen probably could have played at any level at any time. Any minor league level, maybe even major league level,” Giants No. 1 prospect Kyle Crick said. “Those guys, all of them had major league stuff. The addition of [Derek] Law at the end of the year … Bryce [Bandilla] was dominating. They all complimented each other. They all threw mid-90s. There were lefties mixed in. If you got through the fifth inning, and we really needed to win, the next four innings could go hitless with those guys.”
“It was great,” Hall said. “We played around with it on Twitter and people started talking about it. It kind of gave us a drive that if the bullpen got in the game, the game was over.
“We were going to do whatever we had to do to shut the game down. If we were leading or if we were down, we would keep it the same score and it was just an awesome experience,” he said.
Bandilla-coined slogan becomes battle cry for dominant bullpen
A popular phrase echoed through the bullpen — and even the dugout at times — as San Jose continued to win ballgames, adding to the group’s mantra.
“His slogan is ‘you don’t want it’,” Hall said of Bandilla. “He came up with it and we’re always joking around with the guys and wrestling and he would say ‘you don’t want it’ and guys would make fun of it for it.
“He called himself the ‘big dog’ but then you had Josh Osich and Hunter Strickland who would always look at him and say ‘you’re not the big dog. I’m the big dog’.”
The slogan found its way onto a t-shirt, sold by sportsswag.com, as fans on Twitter began to hashtag “Dog Pound” following consistently dominant, late-inning performances.
The core group of finishers put up staggering numbers, with Law, Josh Osich and Hunter Strickland combining to save 32 of San Jose’s 83 wins in 2013. The trio’s ERA sat just below two at 1.97 over 87 innings pitched, including 116 strikeouts to just 16 walks.
But by the time Law arrived from Augusta, both Hall and Osich had been promoted to Class AA Richmond. Thankfully, Law was virtually unhittable from there on out, striking out 45 batters in 25.2 innings and allowing just one walk. He compiled a 4-0 record with a 2.20 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 11 saves, just in time to help San Jose make a push at a second-half championship and on into the playoffs.
The Giants fell short, however, being swept by Anaheim-affiliate Inland Empire in the California League Championship. The disappointment affected both Hall and Law, but from different sides of the country.
“It was really frustrating,” Law said, who joined San Jose from Augusta, Ga. on July 6. “When I got there, everyone was excited after they won the first half [championship] and they still had a good team thing going. It still bothers me a little bit, especially for these guys who got to the first half and then we couldn’t get them a ring for what they did. It’s just frustrating. Really frustrating.”
Hall, along with Osich, Edwin Escobar and Angel Villalona were left to root their former team on from more than 1000 miles away after mid-season promotions to Richmond, Va.
“Even though I was in Richmond, I really wanted to go back to see if I could get back in that bullpen to help out a little bit, but the rules said I couldn’t go back unless I went back earlier,” Hall explained. “It was so bad that I was actually at home watching the playoff games on my computer hoping these guys would win it all.
“The team was just so close and it was a great team to be a part of.”
Hall earned call-up with ridiculous June numbers
Hall was fantastic in San Jose, posting a 2-0 record with a 1.34 ERA and 0.65 WHIP in 33.2 innings pitched, allowing just 22 baserunners while striking out 48. Used mostly as a set-up man in the “Dog Pound”, Hall found himself closing out games in Richmond almost immediately, securing his first career Double-A save in perfect two-inning outing on June 30.
“I started out strong but towards the end of the season, that’s where I fell apart a little bit,” Hall said.
Despite the apparent lapse, Hall proved to be effective with the Flying Squirrels, racking up eight saves and a 2.37 ERA in 26.1 innings. His secured the promotion in an incredible month of June, where hitters squared Hall up for a base hit just twice in 51 plate appearances. He gave up three walks and struck out 22 over that span.
“The swing and misses,” Hall said when asked about the difference between Single-A and Double-A hitters. “In Richmond, the guys had a better eye. Of course they’re going to chase bad pitches but it seemed like you’d make a good pitch and you’d think you got them, but then he sticks his bat out there and fouls it off.”
Law, Hall working alongside the minor league’s finest
The same could be said for the differences both Hall and Law are experiencing in the Arizona Fall League. Facing top hitting prospects like Byron Buxton, Delino DeShields, Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant has been a challenge, to say the least.
“It’s not fun working with the best hitters,” Law said.
Law has had no trouble, though. With eight games remaining in the 31-game schedule, Law is the only pitcher in the entire league who has yet to allow an earned run.
“For me it’s fastball command still,” Law said when asked what he’s specifically working on. “Sometimes I’ll just be left up in the zone and that’s when I get hurt and where all the runs come from. When I’m down, just being consistently down … I think I’m set.”
The only “hurt” tagged to Law’s name have been seven hits, five walks and an unearned run over his 10.1 innings.
Hall, on the other hand, has thrown just seven innings, allowing nine hits, four walks and two earned runs in the process.
“My walks are a little up right now,” Hall said, “but the main thing is I’m trying to work on things and get them ready for next year. The big thing for me is working on my off-speed stuff and getting that good secondary pitch down. It’s not the easiest thing to do here at this level. If you make a mistake, you can’t take that pitch back. They’re going to hit it.”
Hall throws four pitches: a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a cutter, a split-change and a slider. The cutter, Hall says, has made a resurgence and has contributed to his success this year.
“I just started bringing my cutter back,” Hall said. “I threw it my first year and it was a really good pitch for me. I started working on my slider and went away from the cutter. I’ve started to bring the cutter back … it was my best pitch.”
For Law, scouts like J.J. Cooper of Baseball America attribute some of Law’s effectiveness to his unusual delivery. Turning his back almost completely to the hitter, Law follows through with a Josh Collmenter-esque over-the-top motion, throwing a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup.
“He’s got a big 12-6,” Hall said of Law’s curveball. “It’s pretty nasty.”
Aspirations of “Dog Pound” continuance still alive for bonded players
By the conclusion of the 2013 season, “Dog Pound” members were scattered across San Francisco’s farm system. Law, Bandilla, Stephen Harrold, Jeff Soptic, Luis Rojas, Chris Marlowe and Jose Casilla remained on the San Jose staff, while Hall and Osich finished out the year in Richmond. It’s too early to say in which level each will begin their 2014 campaign, but the likelihood of reuniting excites Hall.
“It’s a great group of guys. Everybody has their own thing,” Hall said. “Granted, you aren’t going to be on your best stuff every game but just to have the support from those guys, even though we’re all working for the same job, I still want Derek [Law] to go out and shove every time. I want [Bryce] Bandilla, [Josh] Osich or any of those guys to go out and shove because we want to win at this level, too. I want to win a championship for one of these teams.
“To have that opportunity for maybe all of us to be together in a big league bullpen would be great,” he said.