Giants' Zito throws shutout for Grizzlies

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Giants' Zito throws shutout for Grizzlies

June 21, 2011
GIANTS PAGE GIANTSVIDEO

CSNBayArea.com staffIn a rehab start with the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies Tuesday night, Giants starter Barry Zito threw a two-hit shutout.It was nice. Felt really good, fans were great, stuff wasgood, Zito told CSNBayArea.com Curveball didnt show up until about thefourth inning, changeup was good all night, fastball command was sharp in thelast third of the game.Zito, out since his third start of the season on April 16, needed 118 pitches to make it through the Salt Lake lineup.The foots not a problem," Zito said. At all. Im ready when they needme.The 2002 Al Cy Young Award winner retired 26 of the 30 batters he faced, including 14 in a row. He also struck out the side in a 14-pitch seventh inning.

Bullied by Bucks, Kings unable to match playoff intensity

Bullied by Bucks, Kings unable to match playoff intensity

SACRAMENTO -- The NBA learning curve is steep. On Wednesday night in Sacramento, the young Kings faced one of the league’s up and coming players and a team fighting for a playoff spot. The atmosphere was foreign and the Kings didn’t respond well in the 116-98 loss to the Bucks.

Milwaukee came out of the gate and bullied the Kings. They threw a young Sacramento team all over the court on their way to a 69 point half. To add to the insult, some of the Bucks veterans even taunted the Sacramento crowd as they shot a stunning 61.4 percent from the field before the intermission.

“I think we got pushed around a little bit in the first half,” rookie Skal Labissiere said. “But they’re trying to make the playoffs still. They’re trying to make the eighth spot. So we have to be a little bit more physical with them and not let them punk us around.”

What the Kings saw from the Bucks is the mindset of a team fighting for a playoff spot. Wednesday night’s contest is what you see in the tail end of a season when one team has something to play for and the other has gone with a youth movement.

“They’re playing physical, they’re not backing down from nobody,” Buddy Hield said. “They have something they’re playing for. Obviously we don’t right now because our season is out of reach.”

Sacramento’s veterans looked at the game as a learning experience for the younger players. They need exposure to this type of game late in the season. They need to see what the expectations will be in a year or two when the Kings hope to be in a similar situation.

“These guys have to go through it, they have to learn it and then hopefully when we make the playoffs in the coming years, they’ll be able to understand that it jumps to another level,” Garrett Temple said. “The first 50 games is one level, the the next 30 is another and that playoff is different animal.”

Building a winner usually comes in stages in the NBA. By the time you sneak into the playoffs, you have already come close once or twice and the first round matchups are usually against seasoned winning clubs.

That is something the Bucks will learn soon enough. With the win, they are now tied for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, but nothing is certain. They currently sit a game out of the eight spot and just 2.5 from falling to ninth and missing the playoffs entirely.

If they squeak in, they will play either the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics or Washington Wizards in Round 1.

Every game is magnified when you have something at stake late in a season and the Kings were never able to match the intensity of their opponent.

All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo put on a show. The star forward dominated every player the Kings threw at him on his way to a 32-point, 13-rebounds, six-assist performance.

“People think I’m crazy to say that - if he gets a 3-point shot, he’ll be the best player in the league,” Temple said of Antetokounmpo. “He can penetrate, he has great court vision, can handle the ball, not to mention he’s 6-11 and a wiry strength that you don’t understand unless you’re play against him. He can literally play 1-5 in this NBA and he has a mismatch at every position.”

Labissiere drew the first look on Antetokounmpo and it didn’t take long to see that the rookie was overmatched by his opponent’s versatility. Willie Cauley-Stein had some success early in the second half, using his length and getting physical with the star forward, but the game was already decided.

It’s a process. With a youth movement comes games like the one against Milwaukee. All you can ask for is effort, which Sacramento has shown. Despite the team’s 3-11 record since the All-Star break, there is progress, especially from the core of first and second year players.

“They’re getting better and better,” Tyreke Evans said. “They’re still learning the game, but as they’re playing, they’re working hard. They’re working hard in practice, getting reps up. It’s going to take time, it’s not going to happen overnight. They’re going to have good games, they’re going to have bad games. You’ve got learn from it.”

Sacramento is in the middle of a seven game stretch against teams tuning up for the playoffs. The schedule doesn’t get any easier Friday when the Kings travel to Oracle Arena to face the Golden State Warriors. It’s another chance to learn on the fly.

Now the bullpen's veteran, Kontos picking up where Core Four left off

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USATSI

Now the bullpen's veteran, Kontos picking up where Core Four left off

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On a rainy morning early in camp, George Kontos walked through the clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium with an oversized envelope in his hand. Often times that’s bad news, the sign of a player who has been handed MRI results. For Kontos, it was a sign of his standing in the bullpen.

With the Core Four era officially over, Kontos has picked up where his longtime teammates left off. He has taken over for Javier Lopez as the Giant who organizes spread pools, squares, team golf tournaments and bullpen dinners. He has at times taken on Jeremy Affeldt’s role as a target of clubhouse jokes. When the Giants return home, it will be Kontos who takes Sergio Romo’s spot as the catcher for the first pitch.

“I wouldn’t mind doing that, so I’m sure that’s something I’ll do as well,” he said, noting that he caught Draymond Green and Metallica last season. “Whenever Sergio wasn’t available for some events they would ask me to do it.”

For the rest of the responsibilities, Kontos won’t have to be asked. With Lopez and Affeldt retired and Romo and Santiago Casilla pitching elsewhere, Kontos is all of a sudden the longest-tenured member of the bullpen, and it’s not particularly close.

Mark Melancon and Will Smith are in camp for the first time. Derek Law and Steven Okert are coming off rookie seasons. Josh Osich and Cory Gearrin have two seasons with the Giants and Hunter Strickland has three. Kontos is entering his sixth season in San Francisco. Not bad for a pitcher who shuttled repeatedly between San Francisco and Triple-A Fresno from 2012-2014. 

“I think it goes to show that hard work and doing your job and following the example of the guys who were here actually works,” Kontos said. “If you keep your head down and work hard and do your job, good things tend to happen.”

When Kontos first showed up in 2012, he was put between Lopez and Affeldt in the clubhouse. Every spring thereafter, Kontos was asked if he wanted to move to a different locker. He never did, and as Affeldt neared retirement, he saw in Kontos a player who could one day pick up the leadership baton for the bullpen.

“Most guys don’t really want that role, even if they have time. A lot of guys just want to pitch, but there’s so much more to a team than just pitching,” Affeldt said. “George has kind of always shown leadership in different ways. He was the guy that ran the hardest or worked out more than anyone else, and we always ripped on him for it, but that’s also a part of his drive to be the best and it shows the discipline that leaders have.”

At a recent event for sponsors, Kontos found that the ribbing isn’t limited to the clubhouse. “I guess I’m the new Affeldt,” he said, laughing, after taking a series of jabs during speeches from other members of the organization. That’s not a bad thing, not after a second-half slide during which Giants coaches and executives privately lamented the lack of energy and joy in the clubhouse. The original Affeldt believes the role is a key one.

“The reason you want to be able to be ripped on is that you want to show that to the younger guys,” Affeldt said. “If I don’t talk to you, I don’t like you. If I’m making fun of you, we’re just having fun. We’re ribbing like brothers.”

The back-and-forth can help a team get through the 162-game grind. While Kontos has grown comfortable in that respect, he has found new ways to grow on the field. 

“When he first got here he was predominantly a four-seam guy, and he two-seamed it a little and threw a lot of sliders,” pitching coach Dave Righetti said. “He can cut it now. He can still use his slider. He’s got a changeup and he threw a nice curveball last year. He’s adapted. He can keep pitching, and if he stays in shape, for quite a while. A lot of hitters are one-way type of guys now and George is able to do different things now to different guys. He’s done a hell of a job doing that.”

Kontos threw his four-seam fastball 44 percent of the time when he broke into the big leagues, but that dropped to 12 percent last season, per BrooksBaseball.net. He threw his two-seamer a career-high 22 percent of the time last season, and his cutter — a pitch he didn’t prominently feature until 2014 — 33 percent. In his first full season with the Giants, 51 percent of Kontos’ pitches were sliders; last season it was 22 percent. Throw in the curveball and changeup and you’ve got a starter’s repertoire coming out of the bullpen. 

Kontos came into professional baseball as a starting pitcher, but he has quietly been one of the more effective relievers in the National League over the past three seasons, ranking 15th among NL relief pitchers with a 2.49 ERA. Over the past two years, he ranks in the top 20 in the league in relief outings (130) and innings (126 2/3).

That durability has put Kontos in an odd spot. The pitchers he learned from were late-innings guys, but Kontos has been viewed as a better fit for the sixth and seventh. He often comes on with a starter’s runners on base, and Bruce Bochy knows he can ask Kontos to warm up multiple times without worrying about him being down for the count. 

“He’s been a staff-saver,” said Righetti. 

That has led to a long career in orange and black. With tenure comes added responsibility, and in a rebuilding bullpen, Kontos is ready to fill in for role models who have since departed.

“With Javi gone now, it’s one of those things that whether you want it or not, you’re going to be one of the guys,” Affeldt said. “And he has the background to step up and do that leadership stuff.”