EXTRA BAGGS: Zito catches a memory, etc.

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EXTRA BAGGS: Zito catches a memory, etc.

DENVER Barry Zito hadnt thrown a shutout since April 18,2003, against the Texas Rangers at the venue then called Network AssociatesColiseum.

He was hazy on the rest of the particulars.

Uhhmm, it was against Texas, I think, Zito said. I dontremember if it was at home.

It was.

OK, well I just remember the team, he said. Thatsall.

I approached him later and asked if he could remember whocaught him that day.

Ramon Hernandez? Zito said.

Circle gets a square. Right you are. The same Ramon Hernandez,in fact, who batted seventh Colorados lineup on Monday, when Zito beat theRockies 7-0 and became the first Giant to throw a shutout in 18 years ofbaseball at Coors Field.

Hernandez hit two outs in the air and doubled. He was one oftwo Rockies to reach second base. Nobody reached third.

Like Zito, Hernandez could conjure no memories of thesix-hitter the left-hander threw against the Rangers. Hernandez didnt remember that he backed Zitowith a home run that night, either.

But he had plenty of memories of what Zito looked like whenhe found a groove. And he said Mondays game was very similar.

Hell pitch different every time you face him, and that iswhy I liked catching him, Hernandez said. He would see you another time andyou wouldnt see the same pitches. Thats what he did today. It was one ofthose days where he pitched a great game. Nothing you can do about it.

He always was able to throw three pitches for strikes. Backthen, he was throwing 90, 91. Thats the only difference I see.

I quoted Hernandez a little more in my game story on Zitosstart. Hernandez made the point that even when Zito fell behind in the count, he wasable to get called strikes with his curveball and changeup. Zito also said hehas to be realistic that his fastball will get hit even when hes hitting spotswith it, so the key is to keep hitters off-balance and not able to narrow downthe pitch theyll get next.

The key, of course, is location. If Zito doesnt throwstrikes with his offspeed stuff, and keep those strikes in the lower portion ofthe zone, then hell have a hit me sign where his No.75 should be just ashe did in spring training.

Its important to remember that Monday's shutout was just one start and Zito does not have the track record ofa Greg Maddux. Even in his best days with Oakland, he was among the leagueleaders in walks. He absolutely must execute every pitch to be successful.You enjoy a certain margin for error when you throw 96 mph and your mistakesmight get fouled back to the screen. Zito has no such margin.

But for now, he did what hes spent six years longing to do:He entered a situation where the Giants were counting on him. And he didnt letthem down.

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Shocked me, too. Coors Field is in its 18th season. Only Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field are older in the National League.

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I think its fair to say that the pairing of Zito and HectorSanchez is about more than finding a convenient day to give Buster Posey a restbehind the plate. Zito and Sanchez clearly have a very good rapport.

This is not the first Zito complete game that Sanchez hascaught, either. They worked together on one at Triple-A Fresno, where Zito was beingstashed on a long rehab assignment.

When Zito was asked what it felt like to shake hands at theend of the game, he referenced that start at Fresno and how new it felt.

But today, I just tried to stay pitch to pitch andeventually the innings over, and eventually the games over, Zito said. Youdont want to try to go out there and pitch a shutout. Because its pretty muchimpossible to get outs unless youre trying to make your pitch.

Sanchez had the right temperament to keep Zito in Zen mode.

He just has a good feel, Zito said. Hes not scared, youknow? Hes not scared to go out there and call a pitch that may not be a normalpitch in a situation. If things get under pressure out there, hes just alwaysmellow and relaxed. He has a lot of poise at that position for his age.

Sanchez also contributed with the bat. After raking allspring, he posted his first career multi-hit game. Until he singled offreliever Matt Reynolds, the Giants were 0 for 19 as a team against left-handedpitching this season.

During batting practice, Giants manager Bruce Bochy made anexcellent point that hadnt occurred to me: One benefit of carrying Sanchezover Chris Stewart or Eli Whiteside is that on days the backup starts, theGiants wouldnt need to pinch hit for him. That allows Posey to take a full dayoff from behind the plate instead of entering to work the late innings.

Bochy gave Sanchez a lot of credit for the way he handledZito.

The lefty went a bit further, saying, I dont think he getsenough credit as a catcher.

Nearly a decade from now, when Zito is asked what heremembers from his shutout at Coors Field, Im not sure he will recall thatTodd Helton made the last out or Pablo Sandoval hit a two-run homer.

But Im pretty sure hell remember who caught him.

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Give credit to Dave Righetti and Mark Gardner, too. Im notsure too many pitching coaches could have maintained their patience,let alone their sanity, given all the outside voices that Zito allows into his head.

There have been times they have been at loggerheads, Imsure. That happens any time a coach and player have been around each other forsix years. But Zito was afforded two side sessions and a minor league campgame to find a way to be competitive basically enough time for a Quickfire onTop Chef and Righetti and Gardner helped him track down the loaves and fishes.

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A list of all opponents to throw a shutout in 18 years at Coors Field:

Barry Zito, SF -- 2012
Roy Oswalt, HOU -- 2008
Andy Ashby, SD -- 1999
Dave Mlicki, LAD -- 1998
Pedro Martinez, MON -- 1997
Tom Glavine, ATL -- 1997
Hideo Nomo, LAD -- 1996 (no-hitter)
Pat Rapp, FLA -- 1995
Tom Glavine, ATL -- 1995

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Time to update that stat: with four-plus runs of support,Zitos career record is 113-6, including 28-2 with the Giants.

Those are runs that scored while Zito was in the game, incase you were wondering.

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Troy Tulowitzki is 6 for 41 lifetime against Zito. Thats a.146 average.

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Aubrey Huff drew two walks Monday. Last season, he didnthave a two-walk game until May 12.

Thats a good sign, because when Huff stopped hitting lastyear, he also stopped walking. He had just seven two-walk games all lastseason. (In 2010, he had 18 two-walk games.) If hes seeing pitches and beingmore selective, he has a chance to be a better offensive performer this year.

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Brandon Crawford had another very good at-bat against aleft-handed pitcher on his three-run double. Bochy keeps saying that Crawford will contribute more to the Giants offense than people think. Maybe soon they'll begin to listen.

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If you missed it, Jon Millers daughter, Emilie, wrote awonderful tribute in the New York Times to her dad, to baseball and to a lifeuniquely steeped in the game.

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The players are in the process of choosing their entrancemusic for AT&T Park in advance of Fridays home opener. Dan Otero issubmitting a rap song that one of his friends made, apparently. Lets hope theykeep it clean for the kids.

If you pay attention to such things, you might recall thatSergio Romos entrance music last year was All the Way Turnt Up by RoscoeDash. Well, Romo is proud of his Mexican-American heritage. So one day in SanDiego, after the team was eliminated, he told me that on the final home serieshed come out to some straight-up Banda music a fast-paced, brassy genre thatsounds like you mated polka and mariachi.

Romo likes to joke around, so I assumed he wasnt serious.

But on the last day of the season, Dan Runzler strained amuscle while pitching a mop-up inning. The Giants needed someone to finish.Romo got the call.

And El Mechon blasted in all its glorious cacophony from the speakers at AT&T Park.Im not sure I have ever laughed harder in the press box than at that moment.And as you probably know, when a pitcher leaves because of injury, the next guygets all the time he needs.

That was the best part, Romo said. They played the wholesong!

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Theres an off day Tuesday, and I hear the spring skiing isstill decent up the mountain. But Im just grateful we dont have a foot of snow onthe ground here. As players stood on the chalk line, it was 66 degrees andsunny. On April 9. At Coors Field.

We all lucked out there.

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."