Chisox hammer Zito, but rotation spot is safe

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Chisox hammer Zito, but rotation spot is safe

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- First, the good news as it concerns Barry Zito: Hitters couldn't touch the last 25 pitches he threw.

The bad news: That's because he threw them in the bullpen.

Zito had to plump up his pitch count to 85 because the Chicago White Sox bushwhacked him Sunday at Camelback Ranch. Zito faced 18 batters and gave up nine hits plus two walks in 2 13 innings. The contact was loud, too. It included three doubles and back-to-back home runs by A.J. Pierzynski and Alex Rios.

Yes, Zito served one up to Pierzynski. Researchers are trying to determine if there has never been a darker day in Giants franchise history.

A start like this for Zito would be alarming at any point in the spring. Manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged this one was more unsettling because it came with a week until camp breaks. Zito has just two more exhibition starts before he'd take the mound April 9, when the Giants will play in the Colorado Rockies' home opener at Coors Field.

"Hopefully he can learn from this," Bochy said. "He's going to he out there (every fifth day). Hopefully the next start he can bounce back and get in a groove."

Zito said he knows what he needs to address.

"I've been harping on getting downhill on a good plane," Zito said. "Today I was rushing my body and the arm couldn't catch up. Downhill plane is everything. If your fastball comes out on a downhill plane and the offspeed comes out how the fastball comes out, that's how you get guys off balance. Today, because my arm was late, the fastball was up and the other stuff was recognizable. Even a couple good curveballs got hit."

Zito called it "definitely something that requires attention. ... Ideally you make that adjustment the next pitch. Today, I was laboring to make the adjustment in three pitches and not one."

Said Bochy: "Sure, you don't want to see it this late, but it's going to happen. Better here than in the season. You're hoping he's at a point he can get locked in. Overall, I think he's thrown well. ... Today he never got settled in. Every inning was a struggle."

Bochy reiterated that all he wants from Zito, a back-end starter, is to "give us a chance to win."

Zito is throwing in the low 80s this spring but could take a lesson from another left-hander who could appear in that first series at Coors Field. That would be 49-year-old Jamie Moyer, who threw four perfect innings against the Giants on Saturday at Salt River Fields. Moyer, who could be the Rockies' No.5 starter, didn't throw a pitch above 78 mph.

"He mixes his pitches really well and he's always giving guys a different look, whether it's cutter in, heater away or changeup," Zito said. "He's always making pitches just out of the zone. It's that feel for where to put the pitch and having the timing to (execute it). That's what Jamie has done so well."

Zito said he isn't sure where his velocity has been this spring but "it'd be nice" to add a little more. Mostly, he said he just needs to do a better job hitting his spots.

Zito has a 6.61 ERA this spring but said he mostly has felt good about how he's thrown in bullpen sessions and in games prior to Sunday. Even if the Giants don't feel as confident in Zito, they don't have much of a choice. He is making 19 million this year, 20 million in 2013 and has a 7 million buyout on an option in 2014.

Considering that eating Aaron Rowand's 12 million contract last August was a decision that contributed to the ouster of former managing partner Bill Neukom, it's hard to envision the Giants seriously entertaining the notion of cutting Zito anytime soon.

Giants spring training Day 41: Hwang wins award, hits game-winner

Giants spring training Day 41: Hwang wins award, hits game-winner

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jae-Gyun Hwang’s day started with an ovation from teammates who had selected Hwang as the Barney Nugent Award winner. It ended in style, too. 

Hwang’s walk-off single in the ninth gave the Giants an 8-7 win and raised his spring average to .308. Barring an injury or sudden change, Hwang will not make the team out of camp, but he’ll travel to San Francisco for the Bay Bridge Series next week and the Giants expect him back at AT&T Park soon.

“He can keep the award now,” Bochy joked after Hwang’s walk-off. “Good for him. Players love him, and the way he’s come out every day and the effort he puts in. He’s been inspiring with how hard he has gotten after it every day.”

The Barney Nugent Award is given to the player in his first big league camp “whose performance and dedication in Spring Training best exemplifies the San Francisco Giants spirit.” It is meaningful in large part because the voters are teammates, trainers and coaches. Hwang was called to the middle of the clubhouse by trainer Dave Groeschner on Saturday morning to accept the award. 

“With this being my first time coming to spring training to play baseball, I wanted to work hard and show that I belong here,” Hwang said through interpreter Mark Kim. “I think my teammates have noticed how hard I’ve worked for the team.”

The rest of the Giants have also noticed how easy Hwang has made the transition look. He said that, outside of learning a new strike zone, the adjustment hasn’t been a difficult one. He has four homers this spring, but doesn’t necessarily view that as a shining positive. Hwang said he wants to show more of an all-around game, especially on defense, and a stint in Triple-A Sacramento should provide that opportunity. 

If the rosters play out as expected, Hwang should see most of the time at third base in Triple-A. He can also play first, and he’s eager to show that he’s viable in left field. 

“I want to show I’m a versatile player,” he said. 

GAME RECAP: Chris Stratton was having a good spring, but he got knocked around by the Padres early … Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford both hit deep homers in their second game back from the WBC … Mark Melancon still has not allowed a run this spring … Hunter Pence's March slump got a bit deeper with an 0-for-3 ... Bryan Reynolds, last year’s top pick, entered as a pinch-runner and flew home from first on a Gorkys Hernandez double off the wall. 

BULLPEN BATTLES: In the front office’s perfect world, Josh Osich would be the one to take over for Will Smith, giving the team a hard-throwing lefty capable of neutralizing lefties and righties. It’s been an up-and-down spring for Osich, but he was filthy Saturday, striking out a pair in his lone inning. 

George Kontos looked even better in his inning, striking out the side. Kontos has allowed just five hits in 10 innings this spring, with 15 strikeouts. He seems forever stuck in that sixth-seventh range, but given his splits have been just about even over the years, maybe it’s time the Giants see what he can do in a more high-profile role. 

Cory Gearrin followed the previous two with a perfect eighth. Neil Ramirez struck out one and allowed one hit in the ninth. In 9 1/3 innings this spring, Ramirez has struck out 16 and allowed just five hits and two runs. He has a real shot to take someone’s job in the bullpen next week. 

ICYMI: The big news from this morning: Michael Morse will stick with the team and try to rehab/play his way back to the big leagues. And from the early afternoon, Johnny Cueto had a ton of fun with a 19-year-old he faced in a minor league game. 

NOTABLE: Bochy said that all of the players left in camp are slated to head home on the team flight Tuesday, but some guys have opt-outs on March 30, so moves are coming. This would seem a great sign for Aaron Hill, who is due a $100,000 retention bonus on Tuesday. Hill has slumped late in camp, but he’s still in position to make the team. Also noteworthy: Tyler Beede is scheduled to start Saturday’s game in Oakland. The Giants surely want to knock some MLB-stadium-nerves off before Beede heads down to Triple-A to wait for a call-up.

 

Cueto toys with young prospect in Giants minor league game

Cueto toys with young prospect in Giants minor league game

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There is no way to really ramp up the intensity when an All-Star pitcher makes an appearance in minor league camp, so Johnny Cueto instead found a way to have a bit more fun. 

While getting his work in against A-ball hitters, Cueto had a prolonged, smile-filled battle with 19-year-old Jasrado Chisholm, one of the Diamondbacks’ top prospects. The sequence between Cueto and the shortstop from the Bahamas: 

  • Cueto just missed with a two-strike inside fastball, so he went right back to the same spot, freezing Chisholm, who smiled and nodded at Cueto, who laughed back. 
  • The next time up, Chisholm took two vicious hacks, trying to crank a homer onto Hayden Road. He missed both breaking balls by about a foot. 
  •  Before the third pitch, Cueto yelled something at Chisholm and smiled. “I was telling him to keep his eye on the ball,” Cueto said. “Because every time he was swinging, he was taking his eye off the ball.”
  •  The advice worked. Chisholm hung in on the third pitch, lining a single to left-center. Cueto laughed and pointed his glove at the teenager. He promptly picked him off of first base. “He probably doesn’t know I have a quick move,” he said. “I was having fun with a kid who wanted to actually hit against me.”

Nobody has more fun than Cueto, even on a sun-baked minor league field. He capped his day by standing in for an at-bat of his own, and he stood and watched as a young Diamondback struck him out.

The work on the mound was just what was needed: 7 innings, 85 pitches, 10 strikeouts, 0 runs. Cueto, who missed the opening weeks of camp, is ready for the season.

“I feel strong,” he said. “I feel really good."