Bochy offers Zito plaudits, but no playoff slot yet

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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.

With Bumgarner sidelined, Blach 'taking full advantage' of opportunity

With Bumgarner sidelined, Blach 'taking full advantage' of opportunity

SAN FRANCISCO -- At some point over the next four days, Madison Bumgarner will pick up a baseball, stand a few feet across from a member of the training staff, and simply play catch. It'll be a huge step in Bumgarner's rehab, and should it go well, a boost to the psyche of a struggling team.

In the meantime, another lefty is making sure the Giants don't suffer too much without their ace, as improbable as that first seemed.

Ty Blach took a shutout into the eighth Saturday night and in true Bumgarner fashion, he added a pair of hits and an RBI. The Giants beat the Braves 6-3. They've won Blach's past three starts, and even with a 10-run outing in Cincinnati mixed in, he has a 3.71 ERA since taking the spot left open by a dirt bike accident.

"Because of what happened he's in the rotation," manager Bruce Bochy said, "And he's taking full advantage."

Blach has shown that long term, he might be a big part of this rotation. It's been years since the Giants locked a young, cost-controlled starter in, and Blach has backed up his big cameo last year. It's possible -- likely even -- that at some point the Giants will need to trade a veteran, perhaps Johnny Cueto, for young bats. Blach provides needed insurance. 

Short term, he's providing a huge boost to a team that doesn't have much going right. Blach has thrown at least seven innings in his past four starts. He has allowed just eight earned runs in four starts since the one in Cincinnati, throwing 28 2/3 innings. 

"I feel good," Blach said. "I've always been a starter, so it's been a pretty easy transition to make. I feel comfortable."

The Giants are comfortable behind him, as evidenced by a half-dozen strong defensive plays Saturday. 

"He's been consistent and he works quickly," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "He's just a great guy to play behind."

Blach even joined in at the plate. He had an RBI single in his first at-bat -- his first big league hit off Not Clayton Kershaw -- and later roped another single. Blach even showed off his wheels, busting it from first to third on Denard Span's ball to the corner before Phil Nevin held him up. 

"I worked into some good counts and I was able to get fastballs," Blach said of his night at the plate. "It's definitely a big confidence booster when your spot comes up and you're able to drive in runs."

The night was straight out of Bumgarner's playbook, and it was needed. The Giants had dropped five of six, but Blach was backed by homers from Nick Hundley and Brandon Belt. It got a little hairy late, but the bullpen held on, clinching Blach's third win of the season. He looks poised for many more, and Bochy is happy to keep running him out there.

"I'm not surprised by what he's doing," the manager said.

 

Instant Analysis: Blach does it all vs Braves, Giants snap skid

Instant Analysis: Blach does it all vs Braves, Giants snap skid

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — This spot in the rotation is the one reserved for the stopper, the pitcher who takes a game by the throat when his team really needs it. 

Ty Blach took the mound Saturday for a team that had lost five of six, and just as Madison Bumgarner often has, Blach ended the skid. The young lefty was dominant into the eighth and the bats finally provided enough support. The Giants won 6-3, tying this weekend series with the Braves.

Here are five things to know from a night we were reminded that Emilio Bonifacio is in the big leagues … 

--- Blach pitched 7 2/3 innings. He has thrown at least seven innings in his last four starts, and five of seven starts overall. Jeff Samardzija (6) is the only Giants starter who has gone that deep more often. Blach is tied with Johnny Cueto for second-most seven-inning starts on staff, and Cueto has made three additional starts. 

--- Blach’s RBI single in the fourth was -- at the time -- the fourth hit of his career, and the first against a pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw. The ball had an exit velocity of 101 mph. Blach tried to score from first on Denard Span’s double, but Phil Nevin held him. Still, the way he was moving, it makes you wonder if Samardzija really is Bruce Bochy’s best pitcher-pinch-running option. In the seventh, Blach picked up a second single. 

--- Blach’s only bad start has been the one he made in Cincinnati, where the Giants played like a Double-A team. If you take that one out, Blach has a 2.21 ERA since taking over Bumgarner’s rotation spot. 

--- Even though he gave up just two earned in 7 2/3, Blach’s home ERA actually went up. It’s 1.75, which ranks seventh in the National League. The sellout crowd gave Blach a standing ovation when he was pulled in the eighth. 

--- Blach had a season-high five strikeouts. When he got Nick Markakis to end the first, Blach ended a streak of 37 left-handers faced without a strikeout. He later struck out another lefty, Matt Adams. The new Braves first baseman came up as the tying run in the eighth but Derek Law got him to ground out to first. 

--- Bonus sixth “thing to know” ... on Blach of course: His first name is Tyson, not Tyler. It’s Tyson Michael Blach.