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03/17/09 9:28 PM ET

Giants leaning toward 11-man staff

Smaller bullpen would increase bench flexibility

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants believe that less can mean more when it comes to their pitching.

The club is seriously considering beginning the season with an 11-man staff, which would depart from the norm. San Francisco has taken 12 pitchers into Opening Day each year since 2003, the last time they dared to start the season with 11.

Reasons for the potential staff cut are numerous and involve the non-pitchers just as much, if not more so, than the pitchers. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday that having one more position player than usual can significantly help his roster flexibility.

"It's going to give us more depth, allow us to make more moves and allow us to carry another player who'll be used a lot, too, whether it's in the outfield, infield or pinch-running," Bochy said. "It's going to allow you to make more moves in the course of a game."

Bochy won't substitute players as often as a basketball coach, but might feel compelled to make frequent late-inning changes. Despite his defensive improvement in Spring Training, third baseman Pablo Sandoval could be vulnerable to being replaced in the late innings when the Giants are ahead. Bengie Molina, the ponderous catcher, is always a candidate to disappear for a pinch-runner in the game's latter stages. Expect the appearances of Eugenio Velez when the Giants need speed, Rich Aurilia when they need an accomplished right-handed hitter and Nate Schierholtz when they need left-handed power and he's not filling in at an outfield spot.

First, Bochy and the Giants' other decision-makers must finalize the Opening Day roster. Sticking to an 11-man staff will ease the selection process, along with the roster crunch. The extra berth for a position player also gives flickering hope to the likes of John Bowker, Jesus Guzman, Scott McClain and Ryan Rohlinger, creates the possibility that second-base candidates Emmanuel Burriss and Kevin Frandsen both could make the team and increases the chances of Aurilia, Juan Uribe and Eugenio Velez being in San Francisco on April 7.

Of course, the pitching staff itself must not be overlooked.

The Giants feel comfortable enough about their hurlers to contemplate a smaller staff, which obviously can be returned to a 12-man contingent at any time if fatigue or other factors dictate an increase.

San Francisco has four scheduled off-days in April, enabling Bochy to skip No. 5 starter Jonathan Sanchez or give each member of the rotation an extra day of rest, depending on which strategy better suits the team at the time. Either way, the Giants might not have to add a 12th pitcher during the season's opening weeks. Sanchez could temporarily work as a reliever. Or the extra rest the starters receive could boost their stamina and conceivably reduce the bullpen's workload.

Bochy noted that with the World Baseball Classic extending Spring Training by about a week, the Giants' starters should be ready to pitch deeper into games than they normally would in April. Durability wasn't an issue last year for San Francisco's starters, who ranked seventh in the National League in innings pitched but finished just 28 2/3 innings behind league-leading Milwaukee.

"We have the luxury of a pitching staff that's known to put up some innings," left-hander Jeremy Affeldt said. "From what this rotation has shown, you're not necessarily going to burn your bullpen."

Since one more position player means one less reliever, the Giants' current inclination intensifies the competition for bullpen openings. With Affeldt, Bob Howry, Jack Taschner and All-Star closer Brian Wilson assured of jobs and Sergio Romo (elbow) almost certain to open the season on the disabled list, nine relievers -- left-hander Alex Hinshaw and right-handers Francis Beltran, Waldis Joaquin, Osiris Matos, Brandon Medders, Justin Miller, Luis Perdomo, Billy Sadler and Merkin Valdez -- are vying for two spots.

"A lot of times you say those jobs aren't determined in spring. Well, this spring, we're evaluating these guys every time out," said Bochy, who cited avoiding walks as a leading criterion.

A staff of 11 also must include relievers able to work multiple innings, thus compensating for the 12th man's absence. The Giants lack a classic long reliever capable of consuming three or more innings when a starter is removed early, but they've already begun conditioning pitchers to give extra effort. Affeldt, Beltran, Howry, Medders and Miller are among the relievers who have worked more than one inning in Cactus League games. Bochy indicated that he's looking for a true innings-eater who might not occupy a prime setup role like Affeldt or Howry yet will become an asset.

"That 11th pitcher is a very important piece of the bullpen," Bochy said. "He saves the other guys and will allow you to rest guys when you need to."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.