Rookie Kontos a key piece of Giants’ bullpen

October 16, 2012

Former Lombard Orioles pitcher George Kontos has been a key piece for the San Francisco Giants bullpen this season.

Wisconsin State League

SAN FRANCISCO — George Kontos sat tying his shoes in front of his clubhouse locker following the Giants’ optional workout on Oct. 4 when manager Bruce Bochy tapped him on the shoulder.

“You’re in,” Bochy said, letting the 27-year-old rookie know that he had just been named to the postseason roster before Bochy walked into his office.

The moment took all of a half-second, but for Kontos, it was the biggest highlight of a period of just over a year that had him making his Major League debut with the Yankees last September before establishing a role in the Giants’ bullpen this season.

It may have been a long shot to think that Kontos would be pitching in the postseason when he was called up from Triple-A Fresno on June 9 after the Giants traded for him at the end of Spring Training. Even as the Giants approached the end of the regular season, Kontos was considered to be one of the candidates to be left off the postseason roster.

“This is what we work for,” Kontos said. “You don’t play baseball and go through the 162 games just so you can call it quits.”

Kontos’ chances for the postseason roster were boosted with a strong end to the regular season in which he only allowed one hit in his last six appearances (4 2/3 innings), and he has rewarded Bochy’s postseason call by becoming much more than a bullpen afterthought. Kontos had four key scoreless appearances in the National League Division Series against the Reds, being the first reliever out of the bullpen each time.

“Just being here and having the opportunity to be on the postseason roster has been amazing,” Kontos said. “And on top of that, to be able to contribute in key situations and help out has been even more awesome. It’s a great feeling knowing that your manager and your pitching coach have that confidence in you to go out there and get guys out in the heat of the moment like that.”

Kontos turned heads in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Reds when he came on in relief of Matt Cain, retiring six straight batters to stunt the Reds’ offensive momentum. He did much of the same in Game 2, when he inherited two baserunners from Madison Bumgarner in the fifth inning, needing just two pitches to get Ryan Ludwick to ground into an inning-ending double play.

“I really like the way he’s carried himself in the last series,” Bochy said. “He wasn’t afraid. He threw strikes, quality strikes. He really saved us a couple of times going out there and getting some big outs. He hasn’t been in this situation before, but you wouldn’t know it. That’s how you want your pitchers to be, is go out there and throw quality strikes and don’t show any fear. And this guy didn’t.”

After it became clear in April that Hector Sanchez was going to win the backup catcher’s spot on the roster, the Giants dealt Chris Stewart to the Yankees for Kontos, a power bullpen arm with a promising slider.

“The bigger storyline behind the trade was that we saw Sanchez as being the backup catcher, and once we saw that, it was about making the best deal,” general manager Brian Sabean said, adding that he sees closing out games in Kontos’ future. “It turned out that he was available, and he certainly hasn’t disappointed us. He’s a big, strong kid who can handle the workload, and he’s a great competitor. In these situations we’re putting him in, he’s getting big outs later and later in games.”

After Tommy John surgery in 2009 halted Kontos’ ascension through the Yankees’ farm system as a starting pitcher, he returned from a 10-month recovery as a reliever. Kontos made his debut at the end of last season as a September callup, allowing him to entertain daydreams of spending an entire career in pinstripes with the team that had drafted him in 2006.

“The Yankees, like the Giants, are a first-class organization,” Kontos said. “They do things the right way. I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to have been drafted by them, to have been able to go through their system and make my debut with them. But you know what? This is a business. They saw it as an opportunity for me to benefit them, and the Giants saw something in me that made them think that I could be of help to them. I’m here to do my job with the Giants here, and I’m loving every second of it.”

Story by: Jay Lee /
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