SF Giants lineup: Plus Kickham optioned to Fresno, Ramon Ramirez called up

Update: Bochy said Gaudin most likely gets the go on Sunday. So it seems Ramirez will be enough to tide the bullpen over. 

After seeing a new face this week Giants fans will welcome back an old one, 31-year-old right-hander Ramon Ramirez. The relief pitcher was called up for the first time this season Wednesday when the Giants optioned Tuesday’s starter Mike Kickham back to AAA.

Kickham’s first career start was underwhelming, when he ceded four earned runs in just 2.1 innings of work against Oakland Tuesday. Not only did Kickham’s lackluster performance cause his demotion, but his short outing put strain on a depleted bullpen. An injury to Santiago Casilla will keep him out until after the All-Star break, forcing guys like George Kontos, Chad Gaudin and Jean Machi into higher leverage situations.

In the last four games the bullpen has combined to throw 15 innings, as Giants starters have been tallying high pitch counts early in games. Typical innings-eater Matt Cain couldn’t get past the fifth inning during his six walk performance on Sunday against Colorado.

The Giants could have chosen to send a position player like Brett Pill or Nick Noonan down, but the bench is down a man since Angel Pagan injured his hamstring on Saturday. A three-man bench would put the Giants on thin ice late in games, with few pinch-hitting or injury replacement options.

So the answer is Ramirez, who left the Giants last offseason in the Angel Pagan trade, having gone over to the Mets with Andres Torres. Both Torres and Ramirez flamed out as Mets, but rejoined the Giants in Spring Training 2013. Torres made the 25-man while Ramirez was released, but ultimately re-signed a few days later and accepted an assignment to Fresno.

In 26 innings at Fresno, Ramirez compiled a 3.46 ERA, 10.7 K/9 and just 0.7 HR/9 in a league when home runs pile up like student loan debt on baseball writers. RamRam’s initial stint on the Giants came during the 2010 season, when the Giants acquired him in a trade with the Red Sox. The righty had two stellar season as a Giant, posting a 0.67 ERA in his half-season in 2010 and 2.62 in a full season in 2011. His season in New York seems to be the aberration, as it was the first time Ramirez’s had posted an ERA above 3.46 since 2008.

The Giants still need a one more spot start Sunday before the schedule allows them to work a four-man rotation until June 15th. Shane Loux, Chad Gaudin and even Kickham have been mentioned as candidates, meaning the Giants are back to where they were the moment Ryan Vogelsong broke two bones in his finger. Except this time Bruce Bochy has a live look at Kickham under his belt, and Loux is coming off a stellar start where he allowed one run in a complete game three-hitter. The search for the 6th best starting pitcher in the Giants organization continues…

Here’s the lineup against LHP Tommy Milone (4-5, 3.80 ERA)

LF Torres

2B Scutaro

3B Sandoval

C Posey

RF Pence

1B Pill

SS Crawford

CF Blanco

RHP Lincecum (3-4, 4.75)