SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Competition in the Giants' bullpen has reached a critical stage, with qualified contenders far outnumbering available jobs. A handful of relievers are exempt from concern. Closer Brian Wilson and setup men Tyler Walker and Brad Hennessey are assured of roles. Left-hander Jack Taschner likely has clinched a spot on the Opening Day roster by recording a 1.08 ERA and an opponents' batting average of .115 in seven appearances. But little else appears certain. Not including five starters and the aforementioned relievers, nine candidates remain for the other three bullpen openings, since manager Bruce Bochy probably will begin the season with a 12-man pitching staff.
Right-hander Vinnie Chulk will have a job if he's healthy. But tendinitis in Chulk's shoulder is expected to prevent him from throwing until the middle of next week, although his injury isn't considered serious. Under most circumstances, 11-year veteran Steve Kline also should be guaranteed work. But the left-hander has allowed runs in four of his seven outings and owns a 7.71 ERA. Right-hander Merkin Valdez and left-hander Erick Threets are both out of Minor League options, which could help them force their way onto the club. Keiichi Yabu, Pat Misch and Victor Santos fit the profile of the long reliever Bochy wants to keep. Right-handers Bartolome Fortunato and Billy Sadler would seem to be long shots, but have pitched well enough to merit consideration. "You're competing every day," Chulk said. "Some guys are in a little bit better position than others, but for the most part you have to look at it as anybody's job." Being forced to make difficult cuts is fine with the Giants, especially since skeptics have regarded the bullpen as a weak spot. "I'd rather have a tough decision than something we'd have to settle with," pitching coach Dave Righetti said Sunday before the Giants dropped a split-squad game to the Los Angeles Angels, 5-2. Multiple factors will influence the Giants' thinking, including the age-old argument of whether Spring Training performance eclipses track record. If the latter counts for anything, Kline, the Major League leader in appearances for the last 10 seasons (750), has a definite edge. But the Giants must decide whether Kline's 4.70 ERA last year, his highest since his 1997 rookie season, was an aberration or a foreshadowing of an irreversible lapse.