Stretching the Field: Giants' bullpen takes another blow

In real estate, it's all about location, location, location.

A strong rotation and a dependable bullpen are arguably two of the top three ingredients to succeed in baseball with the other being timely hitting.

The San Francisco Giants are playing a risky game of dominoes and the tiles are now stacked against their relievers. The first bone dropped when energetic closer and fan favorite Brian Wilson was lost for the entire 2012 campaign because of a right elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery to repair.

"We got bad news on Wilson," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said in April. "He took an MRI, and it shows structural damage with his elbow."

Injuries open the door for others to step up and Santiago Casilla has yet to relinquish his role as the ball club's closer. The right-hander inherited Wilson's job and has five saves in 13 games, but blew his first of the season (seventh of career) in Sunday's win over Milwaukee. Still, Casilla has plenty of upside and will keep his post unless injury or failure to get outs becomes problematic.

Speaking of dilemmas, the Giants will have to find a reliable replacement for relief pitcher Guillermo Mota, who was just slapped with a suspension larger than the gap in right-center field at AT&T Park. Mota was suspended 100 games after testing positive for clenbuterol, a performance-enhancing substance, and the Giants might as well just give up on him. A repeat offender and seemingly dependant on breaking the rules, Mota was already handed a 50-game ban for a performance-enhancing substance violation in November 2006.

Some athletes struggle to get by without substances or supplements, but when one frequently violates Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, it's comparable to a criminal ending up back in court for a violation of probation and/or parole. Not to say Mota belongs behind bars, but he's a habitual abuser and deserves the proper punishment. Mota, who is just the third player to be suspended for 100 games as a two-time offender, will reportedly appeal the suspension. Good luck with that.

"The Giants are disappointed to learn of Guillermo Mota's suspension. We support Major League Baseball's Drug Prevention and Treatment Program," the team said in a recent statement.

Steroids, HGH and other supplements were a part of baseball's fabric at one time, and since then MLB has cleaned up its act. One more strike (no pun intended) for Mota and he's gone for good. And that's disappointing for a 14- year veteran who still has some gas (literally) left in his right arm. The 38- year-old is 0-1 with a 5.06 ERA in nine appearances this season with nine strikeouts and four walks, spanning 10 2/3 innings.

The loss of Mota leaves Bochy with a depleted bullpen. That's not good when only one of the five starters in the rotation has a winning record. Thank Madison Bumgarner, Giants fans. Bochy touched on having only a few relievers.

"If we get in a situation where we think we need a pitcher, we're going to have to make a change. Right now we're going with 11 pitchers."

Eleven pitchers? That's almost unheard of.

Besides Casilla in the bullpen, the Giants have Clay Hensley, Javier Lopez Sergio Romo and Travis Blackley as notable candidates to see more action. Casilla and Hensley have the most appearances with 13 apiece. Jeremy Affeldt will be another strong option when he returns from the disabled list because of a knee injury.

Of course, San Francisco can go the minor league route and pluck some young faces to join the big leaguers. Dan Otero, Heath Hembree, Shane Loux and even Brett Bochy are possible candidates for promotion. Only time will tell.

The Giants' starters are led by Bumgarner's 5-1 record in six starts this season.

Two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum is beginning to return to form with a 2-0 mark in his last three starts following an 0-2 record and an awful 10.54 ERA over his first three appearances. Lincecum has since trimmed his ERA down to 5.68. Matt Cain signed a megadeal in the offseason and has responded with a 1-2 mark and a 2.38 ERA in six starts. The Giants will need their two horses in Lincecum and Cain to start dominating again in order to take the pressure off the bullpen.

Barry Zito is 1-1 with a 2.21 ERA in six starts, while Ryan Vogelsong has struggled to an 0-2 mark in four outings to go along with a decent 3.42 ERA. Zito and Vogelsong sit fourth and fifth, respectively, in the rotation. In the starters' defense, the Giants are only 22nd in the majors in runs scored (109) and home runs (21), but are ninth with a .258 batting average.

When all three phases come together for the Giants, they'll be back in the mix as one of top teams in the National League. For now, though, Bochy has some decisions to make and ambitions to play out.