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Why Mark Melancon won’t immediately return to closer role when he rejoins Giants

SAN FRANCISCO–Mark Melancon is nearing a return to the Giants roster, but he won’t be returning to the closer role right away.
Melancon is set to begin a rehab assignment on Monday that could last about two weeks and span five or six relief appearances. The right-hander is recovering from a right elbow flexor strain that has sidelined him since Opening Day, but his injury troubles date back to the beginning of last season.
“We’re getting some good news despite this little three game skid we’re in,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “It’s going to be good to have Mark, it’s been a long road for him and it’s been good to have him back. We’re probably looking around two weeks for his rehab.”
Melancon missed three separate chunks of last season with a pronator injury in his pitching arm that required surgery in September. The Giants were hopeful Melancon would be ready for the start of the season, but he felt a similar pain in his arm that he felt last year and was placed on the disabled list.
The three-time All-Star received a stem cell injection to facilitate the healing process for his injury on April 12, and he’s thrown a handful of bullpens over the last few weeks as he gears up for his rehab assignment.
Though the Giants signed Melancon to a four-year, $62 million contract to serve as their closer prior to the 2017 season, Melancon won’t return to the role when he is available to rejoin the club.
Instead, Bochy said the Giants will ease Melancon into action which will allow Hunter Strickland to maintain his job as the closer for the foreseeable future.
“A little earlier in the game, see where he’s at, how he feels and how he’s throwing,” Bochy said. “Kind of let him get settled in when he comes back and we’ll go that way. I don’t want to put added pressure on him as soon as he gets back.”
Bumgarner throws a bullpen
Giants ace Madison Bumgarner threw a 40-pitch bullpen Saturday and will make his first rehab start for Triple-A Sacramento next Saturday, May 26.
Bumgarner threw all of his pitches and will face hitters for the first time on Tuesday in Houston before the Giants start a two-game set with the Astros.
Bochy hopes to see Bumgarner make three to four rehab starts before he rejoins the Giants rotation, but it’s possible the club will ask him to pitch after two starts depending on the state of the team’s pitching depth.
Building up arm strength and regaining velocity is no easy task for Bumgarner, who is attempting to prepare for a return to the Major Leagues as quickly as possible.
“In the offseason I’ll throw six weeks before camp and six weeks before the season so you’ve got 12 weeks of throwing,” Bumgarner said. “Here we’re trying to get it done in less than half of that.”
Fellow starter Johnny Cueto is scheduled to visit with a doctor on Saturday and will continue his rehab from a right elbow sprain in Arizona while the Giants hit the road for a three-city trip beginning on Tuesday.
Updates in the outfield
Mac Williamson slugged a long home run in his first rehab game on Friday evening for the Sacramento River Cats.
Williamson served as the designated hitter but will play in the field on Saturday and Sunday and could conceivably force his way back onto the Giants 25-man roster by Tuesday.
Outfielder Hunter Pence is continuing a rehab assignment with the River Cats and adjusting to a retooled swing. Pence has a six-game hit streak since restarting his rehab assignment and Bochy said he wants to see continued production from Pence before the Giants bring him back to the Major League level.

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