“Don’t forget to breathe.”
That was the simple yet most effective advice Conner Menez received from some of the San Francisco Giants players when the left-hander made his major league debut on July 21 against the New York Mets, a game the Giants won 3-2 in extra innings. The 2013 San Benito High graduate received a no-decision in the contest, allowing two runs while striking out six over five solid innings.
“I thought I did great for being my first time up there,” Menez said in a phone interview Monday. “I kept us in the ball game and gave up two runs, and honestly I thought it was a great outing. Of course I made two mistake pitches to hitters that I left up and over the plate, and you tip your cap to them. But overall I thought it was a very solid outing.”
Talk about riding a roller coaster of emotions—less than 24 hours after his start, Menez was optioned back to Triple-A Sacramento. The move had nothing to do with Menez’s performance, as the Giants needed bullpen help and Menez had options since this was his first call up to the big league club.
“I had no idea actually (that I would be sent back down immediately),” he said. “No one told me anything until they called me that night and told me I was going back down. My pitching coach (Curt Young) told me they were sending me down because they needed more arms for the bullpen. But he said my start was exactly what they wanted out of me and they would see me soon.”
Presumably, Menez will get promoted again when MLB teams can expand their rosters on September 1. Menez’s performance did nothing to alter the notion that he is a pitcher on the rise and capable of becoming a fixture on an MLB roster. Despite a fastball that sits “only” in the low 90 mph range, Menez recorded the most strikeouts in the minor leagues in 2018. In his MLB debut, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound southpaw whiffed six Mets hitters in five innings, showing he is indeed a strikeout pitcher.
Menez does it with a deceptive delivery combined with tremendous movement on the ball, which gets on top of hitters faster than they realize. Although Menez was a picture of composure and poise on the outside, his insides were churning a little but more than usual—and with good reason. After all, Menez was pitching for the team he grew up rooting for and had approximately 200 family and friends in attendance.
“I’m already a calm person in general, and that helps a little. But there is no way you can’t be pumped up to make your Major League debut for your hometown team,” he said. “Honestly, it looked like I stayed composed, but on the inside I was pumped out of my mind and trying to breathe and stay calm. It was pretty special. I had family and anyone who was in California come to the game, so it was awesome. It definitely had to be 200 or over 200 (total) family and friends from Hollister, Redding and the Bay Area. It was pretty cool.”
The Giants gave Menez 60 tickets to distribute to family members and friends, but he probably had hundreds of more requests than that. instead of stressing over having to make those decisions, Menez gave that responsibility to his dad, Scott. Of course, dad came through just like he did during the thousands of hours he poured into Conner during his son’s formative years.
“My dad taught me life lessons from baseball to our religion Christianity and spending countless hours in the cage always helping me with my mechanics and hitting,” Menez said. “I can’t thank my mom (Gina) and dad enough. Mom for putting so much effort into everything and doing the laundry to make sure I had clean clothes to play in, and from dad putting in so many hours playing Wiffle ball with me in the backyard or helping us with my game.”
Menez arrived in the Giants clubhouse a day before his start, and it was only then he found out he would be pitching the next day.
“That’s when it really sunk in,” he said.
Hours before his start, Menez sat down with Young and Giants catcher Buster Posey to briefly go over the Mets lineup and how to approach some of their hitters.
“I’m sure Buster Posey did his own little homework on me and how I like to throw,” he said. “We went through videos and determined how I want to pitch them, and that was a really cool experience just to be able to sit down with those guys and go through the lineup.”
Before his next potential call up, Menez will continue to focus on reducing his walk rate. In all the other vital analytics metrics, Menez rates well with the exception of walks.
“They told me in spring training to work on walks and cutting off the running game at first,” he said. “I’ve been working on that all season. I think I’ve done a pretty good job on the running game, but I’ve been struggling a little bit with walks lately. I feel strikeout pitchers in general will have higher walks, but obviously I’m trying my best to throw strikes and not walk people.”
Five days after making his MLB debut, Menez started for Triple-A Sacramento. By Mendez’s standards, he had a rather lackluster line: four innings pitched, six hits allowed, three earned runs, four walks and six strikeouts. Menez has an even-keeled demeanor, allowing him to rebound from adversity and continue to progress even after a spectacular outing. It’s one of the main reasons why he’s been on a rapid ascent through the minor leagues ever since he got drafted three years ago. He’ll probably have more MLB starts in his future, but the first one tends to be the most memorable.
“I was told to soak it all in and I did that,” he said.