SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Heath Hembree blundered for the cycle in his second appearance this spring, following a leadoff walk with a balk, fielding error and wild pitch. The sequence, which came last Friday, brought the winning run home for the A's.
Because spring training playing time is doled out for players who need innings, not a confidence boost, Hembree had to wait five days to get back on the mound.
"I was tired of sitting on it," he said. "It's going to happen in baseball, it's part of the game, but it was just a really bad one. It seemed like (my break) lasted forever. I was ready to get things going a little differently."
Hembree righted the ship the next time out, throwing an impressive ninth inning against the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday. He sat at 93-94 mph with his fastball and blew an elevated 92 mph heater past Jeff Bandy to clinch a Giants win. On Thursday morning, Hembree breathed a sigh of relief when recounting his up-and-down start to the spring.
The 25-year-old knows there isn't much margin for error in the race for bullpen spots, so it was important to get back in manager Bruce Bochy's good graces.
Hembree is part of a large group fighting for two spots. George Kontos, Jake Dunning and Dan Runzler are well known to the organization, while prospect Derek Law and waiver pickup Jose De Paula sport intriguing arms. Bochy said De Paula, a left-hander who has given up two hits in six innings, has been "the talk around camp right now with his early success." Bochy has long been a Jean Machi fan because of the right-hander's tendency to pound the strike zone and his late-inning experience in winter ball.
It's a big crowd, and while there surely are favorites internally, the Giants like to hold a competitive camp. They'll let the pitchers fight to win jobs. Hembree nearly suffered a knockout last week, but he's back in the ring.
"He covered every box in screw-ups," Bochy said when recounting Hembree's disastrous outing against the A's. "It's a great job bouncing back. To come back like that in a one-run game, good for him."
A good reliever has a short memory, and Hembree has long shown an ability to bounce back from disappointments. After seemingly being on the edge of a call-up for parts of three seasons, Hembree finally made his debut last September. The pitcher who saved 38 minor league games in 2011 and 31 in 2013 didn't disappoint. Over nine big league appearances, Hembree gave up just four hits and no runs. He struck out 12 and walked two in 72/3 innings while shaking any nerves from his system.
"It was big just getting up there and seeing what it's like," he said. "It was a good learning experience for me, and it provided a lot of motivation for the offseason."
The Giants were playing out the string when Hembree joined the club, but he took note that the veterans still ran their sprints every day, still kept to their weightlifting routines and still prepared mentally as if they were chasing a division title.
"To see guys getting after it that deep in the season, it taught me a lot," Hembree said.
The teachers are all back in camp this year, with four of them -- Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt -- locked into spots. Yusmeiro Petit seemed a lock as the long reliever, but he's on shaky ground after giving up seven earned runs in his first 21/3 spring innings. Bochy wants to keep a long man but said he would wait until the final two weeks of the spring to fully judge Petit and left-hander David Huff, who has battled shoulder stiffness.
Follow Alex Pavlovic on Twitter at twitter.com/AlexPavlovic.