by Ryan Clarke
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Clayton Blackburn has bounced back before.
The young right-hander in the San Francisco Giants organization struggled on the mound following the death of his older brother in March of 2015. But after some soul-searching, he stormed back to finish with the best ERA in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League with the Sacramento Rivercats.
Now, Blackburn is trying to bounce back again, this time from the worst season of his minor league career.
Blackburn’s ERA spiked from that league-best 2.85 in 2015 to 4.36 last year. And he yielded 18 home runs after allowing only six in 2015.
Despite his lackluster 2016 campaign, Blackburn has a chance to compete with Matt Cain and Ty Blach for the fifth starter spot on the Giants big league roster.
So Blackburn finds himself on the fringe of making it to the majors, just as he was last year before his second full season in Sacramento.
“Any time you get to come in and compete, it’s always a lot of fun,” Blackburn said. “The competition is what brings us together and it’s what makes baseball great.”
Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti still has confidence in Blackburn and said he’s going to be a key to San Francisco’s pitching depth. The fact that Blackburn is in competition for the fifth starter spot says a lot about what he brings to the table.
“He’s a four-pitch guy that, when he’s on, can go through lineups pretty well — plus he’s a good hitter, too,” Righetti said. “This spring for him is serious business.”
A spot in the bullpen appears unlikely for Blackburn, at least for now.
The organization likes him as a starter much more than a reliever, so his road will either lead to a spot in the major league rotation or to a third go around with Sacramento.
For Blackburn, it might feel a little like a roundabout.
He was drafted by the Giants out of high school in the 16th round of the 2011 MLB Draft and made his professional debut with the Giants’ Arizona Fall League team.
Now he’s back in Scottsdale, competing once again.
“The Fall League was just a completely different experience,” Blackburn said. “Overall it was a great developmental part of my past, and I’m grateful I got to do that.”
But development on the field is only half the battle for Blackburn. Righetti said Blackburn’s mental game has to be at 100 percent, too.
Blackburn said he will be happy whether the Giants keep him on the big league club or send him back to Sacramento.
“I’m here to get ready for the season,” he said. “If that’s in Sacramento, then that’s what it is. I’m excited for either one and just ready to start playing again.”
(Video by Andrew Chapman/Cronkite News)