SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Mark Melancon sprints to the mound and his heart starts racing – at precisely 183 beats per minute.
It’s all by careful design for San Francisco’s new closer.
“I didn’t realize it was that high,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday, when his pitchers and catchers held their first spring training workout. “That shows you how ramped up these guys get with Adrenalin kicking in. It’s a beautiful thing. Adrenalin’s a beautiful drug as long as you can control it.”
Melancon sure can, and he is monitoring his every movement. The right-hander is wearing a heart rate monitor under his uniform around his rib area while he pitches.
“I don’t think across the league it’s too popular,” Melancon said.
In fact, he asked his share of questions about sports science – his passion that goes hand in hand with pitching at his peak – when deciding to sign with San Francisco during the offseason.
But 183 beats per minute, for a someone who typically works all of one inning at the end of the night to finish off the opponent?
“Which is extremely high, because I’m just standing out there, barely moving,” he said. “I don’t want to go from sitting out in the bullpen for two hours to all of a sudden trying to be at 183. That’s what’s going to cause injury, so slowly building that up over the course of two innings or so getting the heart rate up riding the bike, getting the blood flowing and get your body loose.”
On Tuesday, Melancon threw for the first time to Gold Glove catcher Buster Posey as lefty ace Madison Bumgarner let it fly from one mound over at Scottsdale Stadium. All the brass watched their prized ninth-inning addition keenly from the side – executive vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean, general manager Bobby Evans, athletic trainer Dave Groeschner, assistant GMs Jeremy Shelley and Dick Tidrow.
Of course Bochy stole some glances, too.
Melancon, who landed a $62 million, four-year contract in December, got right to work. He shagged balls during bunting drills on a back field before his turn.
The 31-year-old Melancon figured he might be pitching in the Bay Area last summer but the Pirates traded him to Washington instead of San Francisco, which could have used him as the Giants squandered a three-run lead in the ninth inning of an eventual 6-5 loss to the champion Cubs in Game 4 of the NL Division Series last October.
Melancon saved at least 30 games in each of the past three seasons, including a majors-best 51 in 2015. He went 47 for 51 in save opportunities in 75 relief appearances last year with Pittsburgh and Washington, tied for second-most in baseball.
Melancon has embraced every advantage he can get from gains in sports science.
From the heart rate monitor he gathers metrics such as calories burned and distance covered.
He studies the numbers and considers how maybe it was an especially hot day and he burned more calories and his heart rate was higher because of the temperature. He then might decide to decrease his next workout or even take an extra day of rest.
He also does regular blood work to determine whether he might be prone to injury unless he reduces his workload.
“All these teams have a sports science director now, so it’s obviously pretty important. They’re valuing it,” he said. “While I was in Pittsburgh I felt we were ahead of the curve with some stuff, some things that are just now being implemented by teams we’ve been using for three or four years.”
Health nut Hunter Pence can’t wait to compare notes.
“I’ve already been asking him about all his other organizations and how they do things, trying to see anything we can do better,” the right fielder said. “That’s something me and him are both really into, the sports science, trying to get the most out of our bodies.”
Notes: The Giants signed RHP David Hernandez to a minor league contract and Bochy expects him to compete for a bullpen spot. ... Johnny Cueto, still in the Dominican Republic with his ailing father, is expected in camp this weekend. He was set to throw Tuesday at the team’s Dominican academy, Bochy said.