Bochy offers Zito plaudits, but no playoff slot yet

897781.jpg

Bochy offers Zito plaudits, but no playoff slot yet

LOS ANGELES So many adjectives havebeen used to describe Barry Zito over the past six seasons. Overpaid is atrendy one.

Here is another: deserving.

How else to describe a pitcher who hascontributed to 11 consecutive happy handshake lines on his day to pitch? Whofinally received run support and made it stand up for 15 victories? Who putaside the dented pride that came with being playoff-roster chaff three times in2010, and then resurrected himself from a crisis of confidence at the end ofspring training?

Zito had a killer instinct on the moundTuesday night. It was just the right attitude the Giants needed to eliminatetheir archrivals. Zito was masterful into the seventh inning, left to loud boos the universal sound of respect for a Giant at Dodger Stadium and gave theclub what it needed in a 4-3 victory.

Zito ends the season with a 4.15 ERA identical to where he finished in 2010. But the destination looks so much sunnier this time.

I felt pretty good in that seasonexcept for down the stretch, Zito said. This year, it was different. I wasable to keep my focus and make better pitches. I was able to stay under controlcoming down the way and keep my focus.

He will be on the playoff roster forthe NLDS that begins Saturday at AT&T Park. That much manager Bruce Bochy has confirmed. But when would he pitch?

With a stern start in a playoffenvironment, Zito might have made a case to be the Giants Game 3 starter whenthey hit the road, either to Washington or Cincinnati. He certainly has been abetter, more dependable pitcher than Tim Lincecum this season.

For now, Bochy declined to offer Zitomore than plaudits.

Well get together here, Bochy said.But hes done just a terrific job, particularly when you look at winning thelast 11 games. Its a difficult decision and a lot of variables go into it. Buthes pitched great and had great focus out there. Well go meet Thursday andget this thing set.

You couldnt blame Zito for having asense of entitlement. But he made no demands after becoming the first Giantsince Bill Swift in 1992 to lead his team to victories in 11 consecutivestarts.

Whatevers going to happen is going tohappen, Zito said. Bochy makes the decisions around here. Hes done a heck ofa job to this point and I think we all trust him.

Zito was able to trust in his hittersthis season. They scored at least four runs for him in 18 of his 32 starts, andhe went 13-1 in those games. Hes 40-3 in his Giants career when he receives atleast four runs.

He only had 37 such starts over hisfirst five seasons with the club. Thats an average of 7.4 games per season.

So this has been like a tidal wave ofruns this season. Still, he needed to make them stand up. And he has.

He showed mettle by picking up histeammates twice after mistakes in the field. He didnt shrink in the face ofMatt Kemp, who entered with a .462 average in 52 career at-bats against him.

This time, Zito struck out Kemp twice.And when he faced him with two runners in scoring position in the fifth, he pitchedaggressively inside and then sacrificed his shins to make sure the ball wouldntgo through. When Zito threw in time for the out at first base, it was as chargedas hes appeared on a baseball field in a long, long time.

I was pretty fired up, Zito said. Justa lot of history with Kemp, you know? In a big situation like that, it was goodto be able to jam him a little bit.

It was a memorable jam session. Zitohopes the music can linger into late October.

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On one of the many nights last season when his bullpen imploded, Bruce Bochy nearly put a catcher on the mound. Trevor Brown ended up playing an inning of third base on June 28 as the Giants gave up eight runs over the final two innings in a brutal loss to the A’s, and he said this week that he was told he was the next man up on the mound. 

That night was an odd one, as a tired bullpen was waiting for Sergio Romo to get activated off a rehab assignment and trying to get by without long reliever Chris Stratton, who had thrown 57 pitches out of the ‘pen the night before. The bench was also short because Joe Panik was about to be put on the concussion DL.

Bochy hopes he doesn’t have to deal with such a situation this season, and not just because the bullpen should be much improved. The disabled list lasts 10 days now, not 15, and Bochy is thrilled with the new rule.

“The DL thing, I really like it,” he said. “You get caught in that gray area so often.” 

Bochy met with league officials on Saturday to go over some of the rule changes. DL stints can now be made retroactive just three days, but it’s still a vast improvement overall. 

“With (position) players and pitchers it’s going to make it easier to DL guys,” Bochy said. “If you’re looking at (starting) pitchers, they could miss just one start.”

The Giants have often played a man or more short, trying to get by day-by-day to give a position player or starter time to heal. Around camp, this could be called the Angel Pagan Rule, as the former Giants outfielder often missed a week or so before officially going on the DL. At times, Bochy has been patient with players like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, knowing that even if they missed a week, keeping them off the DL could still earn the Giants seven or eight games with a big bat back in the lineup. If a future diagnosis is that a player will miss a week, it’ll be much easier to swallow putting him on the 10-day DL than it was for the 15-day. Likewise, the Giants will take advantage of the change if a pitcher will have to miss a start. 

Bochy has said often that he would like every reliever to go on the DL during the season to freshen up. That’ll make more sense now, and it should keep the Giants from having to play as many games where the bullpen is gassed and a backup catcher is preparing to pitch. For guys like Stratton — a versatile pitcher on the 40-man roster — it should also lead to increased trips up to the big leagues to fill gaps. 

INJURY UPDATE: Pence (side muscle) took 25 swings during a live BP session in the cage and Bochy said he’s doing much better. That was about the only significant activity Sunday. Once again, the workout was rained out. Bochy said the Giants have enough time to get guys ready for the Cactus League opener on Feb. 24, but they’ll likely hold some big-name pitchers out of the early games. Brandon Crawford and Posey will get plenty of early starts to prepare for the WBC. 

PROSPECT WATCH: If the early games are turned over to prospects, Dan Slania will be an interesting guy to watch. Slania is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, so he always had the look of an imposing reliever. But his greatest success last season came after a surprise move to the rotation. 

Slania, a 2013 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, got a call on his 24th birthday telling him to prepare to start because of an injury in Richmond’s rotation. He had not started a game since high school, but his four-pitch mix worked. He had a 5.32 ERA out of the bullpen but it dropped to 1.48 in 10 starts for the Flying Squirrels. In two Triple-A starts, he struck out 14 over 13 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. The Giants put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. 

“He had a great year last year,” Bochy said. “He’s in camp for a reason. He’s got great stuff and a good makeup.”

RULE CHANGE: One more thing that came out of that rules meeting: Managers who are out of challenges now have to wait until the eighth inning to ask an umpire to look at a play.

QUOTABLE: “We know he’s better off taking some days. We talked about it (with him). He agrees that it’ll help him.” Bochy on Pence’s workload. The right fielder is coming off two injury-marred seasons, and the Giants have no intention of even trying to get him back to his Iron Man days. 

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The “options game” can be a cruel one. It can also be one of the most important parts of spring training. 

If two players are relatively even at the end of camp but only one can be optioned to the minors, he’s usually the man left out. Giants officials have already made reference to this several times in discussing left field, where Jarrett Parker — who is out of options — would surely be claimed off waivers if the Giants try to sneak him back to the minors before Opening Day. Mac Williamson, on the other hand, can be shuttled back and forth. 

The same holds true for Kelby Tomlinson, and while it was easy during the first week of camp to see him as the odd man out, manager Bruce Bochy said that’s not the case. What do all the veteran infielders mean for the young one already in-house?

“It hasn’t affected anything for Kelby, really,” Bochy said. “It’s all about competition for spots on this team.”

Tomlinson played 54 games in 2015 and 52 a year ago, but the Giants put a clear emphasis this offseason on finding backup infielders. Jimmy Rollins, Jae-gyun Hwang, Orlando Calixte and Gordon Beckham were among those brought in before camp, and Aaron Hill arrived on the fourth day. Sure, Ehire Adrianza — who was seemingly perpetually out of options — is no longer around, but if the Giants carry just two backup infielders, one of them will almost certainly be Conor Gillaspie. 

Tomlinson isn’t bothered by the offseason of additions. He said he can take knowledge away from six weeks spent with guys he grew up watching.

“Rollins’ prime was right in my later high school years,” he said, smiling. “I’ve got a lot of guys to learn from and watch. It’s a little of both (a competition and learning experience). We’re all fighting for the same job, but we’re still on the same team and we’re all trying to learn from each other and help each other.”

Tomlinson is the incumbent, and the Giants certainly know all about his speed and ability to play all over the field (he continued to take fly balls this winter, just in case). They also now know that Tomlinson adds something that’s needed on any bench. Last season, he emerged as one of Bochy’s most reliable pinch-hitters. 

Tomlinson’s seven pinch-hits were tied for second on the team after Gillaspie’s 11. He was 7-for-17 in a pinch, adding three walks. Tomlinson’s simple swing and up-the-middle approach have proven perfect for important spots. He’s a .315 career hitter with runners in scoring position, a .373 hitter in situations baseball-reference deems “late and close,” and a .367 hitter in “high leverage” spots.

“I’m just trying to compete up there every at-bat, especially in that pinch-hitting role,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a grind, but that makes it fun when you give the team a quality at-bat. Even if it’s not a hit, you go up there and try to see five pitches and have a good at-bat.”

Tomlinson has given the Giants plenty of them over parts of two seasons. With Brandon Crawford headed for the World Baseball Classic, he is sure to see increased time this spring, and while the options game or non-roster list might catch up to him, the Giants haven’t forgotten what they already have. 

“He gives us versatility,” Bochy said, “So he’s in the mix, too.”