EXTRAS: Zito getting up to speed?

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EXTRAS: Zito getting up to speed?

GLENDALE, Ariz. Barry Zito will never inspire widespreadconfidence with Giants fans. Thats just the way it is.So when he said his fastball felt harder than the 81-83 mphthat showed up on scouts radar guns Tuesday, the scoffs could be audible atCamelback Ranch all the way from the Bay Area.But Zitos first exhibition start was exactly what BruceBochy wanted. He threw 28 of 35 pitches for strikes. He worked efficiently intothe third inning. He got ahead in the count and pitched to contact.Thats what a No. 5 starter is supposed to do.RECAP: Cabrera blasts two, leads Giants past Dodgers
Barry did great, Bochy said. Terrific job. He should feelgood about that outing. Its a little out of sync in the windup. Thats why welet him go back out there to start the third inning. But overall, great job.Zito allowed a home run to Andre Ethier but otherwise had aproductive outing. He even struck out Dodgers All-Star outfielder Matt Kemp onthree pitches, then did the same to cleanup man Juan Rivera.Fastball up and in, catcher Eli Whiteside said. Thatswhat hes got to do: Be around the zone and mix it up. Be more aggressive inthe zone early.Before he could be told of the gun readings, Whitesidevolunteered that Zito appeared to have good velocity. The catcher agreed withZito that the ball was popping a little harder than 81-83 mph.Zito appeared confused when told the readouts by reporters, saying he wasthrowing 86-88 mph while throwing to hitters in January.Huh. Thats strange, he said. It felt like it was comingout good, like it had good life.Not to suggest a conspiracy theory, but its possible thatthe multiple readings were off. The scouts section is not directly behind theplate at Camelback Ranch, as it is at most ballparks. In the ninth inning, thescouts gunned hard-throwing prospect Heath Hembree at just 91-93 mph; hesknown to throw near triple digits.Whatever the true velocity was, Zitos game is more aboutlate movement, deception and location. He has worked to get all his pitches tocome out of the same tunnel and felt the swings on his curveball indicatedthe hitters werent picking it up.Throwing inside remains a key, too.I knew he was anxious to get out there, Bochy said.Zito is in a much different place and time than 2008, whenhe had a 14.92 ERA heading into his final two spring training starts. He faced72 batters before he registered a strikeout. This time, it took just three -- and the guy he whiffed probably should've been the NL MVP last season.
One other big difference: In 2008, Zito was the Giants opening-daystarter.No wonder Tim Lincecum is so popular.--Hembree wasnt lighting up the radar guns, either, but his91-93 mph fastball sure seemed harder based on some of the swings.Minor leaguer Lance Zawadzki threw his bat into the standsabove the Giants dugout. Two pitches later, he did it again.Both times, he asked the fan to return the bat.That second time, I didnt think hed get it back, Bochysaid.He did. And he got booed, too.--Joe Panik made a great impression in the Giants 8-4victory. He worked a tough at-bat after falling behind 0-2 and ended up hittinga triple, impressing Bochy with his wheels.Panik might not be in the big leagues anytime soon, buttheres never a bad time to make an impression on the big league skipper.--Freddy Sanchez took grounders again but got a day off fromthrowing. Sure looks like hell DH on Thursday. Hell be able to get at-bats inminor league camp when games begin soon, too.--Seems to be drier, dustier and sunnier here at CamelbackRanch than any other place in the Cactus League. The infield was totally dry bythe first inning.When Eli Whiteside slid into second base, he did his bestPigpen impression. I think the cloud of dust he kicked up is affecting weathersystems in New Mexico right about now. --In my story on Melky Cabrera, who homered from both sides ofthe plate, I mentioned the rarity of that feat. Its been done just three timesby a Giant in a regular-season game over the last 18 years. Randy Winn did ittwice in one season, and Ray Durham did it once.RELATED: Cabrera breaks out, homers from both sides of plate
Who pulled it off in 1993?If you knew Todd Benzingers name off the top of your head,congratulations. You've earned your share of Croix de Candlesticks, I'm sure.

Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?

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USATSI

Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?

CHICAGO — John Lackey's night started with a leadoff homer. Ty Blach's night started with a 13-pitch battle. Neither one is a positive for a pitcher, but Blach didn't view it that way. He actually appreciated Ben Zobrist stretching him out.

"It's good to have a battle like that and get you locked in," Blach said. "It gets you focused and you'll be like, I can execute and get guys out. It's good. It's a good battle."

There, in a nutshell, is so much of what Bruce Bochy loves about his young left-hander. The Giants have found Blach's arm and resolve to be remarkably resilient. He wasn't bothered when they moved him to the bullpen and he didn't get too high when they moved him back to the rotation. He is the same after seven shutout innings or three poor ones. Bochy smiled when asked about the Zobrist at-bat, which ended in a strikeout looking. 

"How 'bout that?" the manager said. "He won that at-bat. It seems like the advantage goes to the hitter, seeing all those pitches. He kept his focus and got a called strikeout and here he is pitching in the eighth inning."

After needing 13 pitches for one out, Blach got the next 23 on 81 pitches. Bochy thought Blach tired a bit in the eighth, but the deep effort allowed Bochy to mix and match in the bullpen, and ultimately he found the right mix. Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon closed it out and got Blach his second win.

--- From last night, Joe Panik's huge night helped give Blach an early lead. With the help of Ron Wotus and his shift charts, he also put on a show defensively.

--- We're trying something new right after the final pitch: Here are five quick takeaways from the 6-4 win.

--- The options game sent Kelby Tomlinson back to Triple-A on Wednesday when the Giants activated Melancon, but his latest stint in Sacramento comes with a twist. Tomlinson started his third consecutive game in center field on Monday. The Giants are getting a bit more serious about their longtime plan to make Tomlinson a super-utility player. 

“Tommy is a valuable guy in the majors and if we can give him some experience in the outfield, it gives you more flexibility and versatility,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

This is not Tomlinson’s first foray into the outfield. He did work there in the offseason after the 2015 season and he has played 25 big league innings in left field the last two seasons. This is Tomlinson’s first real experience with center field, and while in the past he has said that the transition isn’t as easy as some might think, Bochy is confident Tomlinson can figure it out. He certainly has the speed to be a semi-regular in the outfield, and the Giants aren’t exactly brimming with quality center field options behind Denard Span, who is dealing with his second injury of the season. 

“It’s a little different now,” Bochy said when asked about Tomlinson’s past experiences in the outfield. “He’s in Sacramento doing it, and knowing there’s a possibility we could need help in the outfield.”

If the switch doesn’t come in handy this season, it could in 2018. Bochy compared Tomlinson’s infield-outfield ability to Eduardo Nuñez, who has found regular playing time in left but is a free agent after the year. 

--- Hunter Pence did some light running in the outfield before Monday’s game. Bochy said Pence is still about a week away from being an option.

--- Bochy has said it a few times now when asked about the standings, so it’s officially a new motto for a team that got off to a brutal start: “We’ve put ourselves in a great situation for a great story.”

--- They're starting to get a little grumpy around here with their team hovering around .500. Perhaps the Cubs thought they could fool a few on the way out of Wrigley.

Panik takes step in right direction, helps Giants build lead Cubs can't overcome

Panik takes step in right direction, helps Giants build lead Cubs can't overcome

CHICAGO — The Giants gave Mark Melancon $62 million to make sure they don’t have an NLDS repeat, and the closer did shut the Cubs down in the ninth Monday. There’s a far cheaper solution to those big problems, however: Score so much that a late-inning implosion doesn’t matter. 

The Giants gave up four in the eighth inning in their first meeting with the Cubs since that infamous Game 4 meltdown, but thanks in large part to Joe Panik, the cushion was large enough. Panik, back atop the leadoff spot with Denard Span aching, reached base four times and had three extra-base hits. He came into the game with a .172 average over his previous 14 games, but he took John Lackey deep to lead off the night. 

“The last couple of days in St. Louis I started feeling better,” Panik said. “I started feeling a little better and today it clicked. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. I felt good. The swing path felt good. It’s going back to staying on the ball and not trying to do too much.”

With the wind rushing out toward the bleachers, there was no need to try and muscle the ball. The Giants hit a season-high three homers and added four doubles. Brandon Belt and Justin Ruggiano also went deep as the lead was stretched to 6-0. After Ruggiano’s blast, a familiar feeling set in.

Ty Blach had been brilliant through seven, but Javier Baez took him deep in the eighth. Derek Law entered and gave up a two-run shot to Ben Zobrist. Just as in Game 4, Bochy started wearing out the track to the mound. Steven Okert faced one batter and plunked him as Hunter Strickland and Melancon started to heat up. Strickland got the call, and after falling behind in the count, he got Willson Contreras to ground into a double play, stranding a pair. 

“No lead is safe on a night like this,” Bochy said of the wind. “It’s not surprising when the other team answers.”

It probably wasn’t surprising to the players on the field. It did, however, bring back bad memories.

“You’re human,” Panik said. “You’re human, but with the bullpen we’ve got, we have confidence that they’ll shut it down.”

As the Cubs rallied in the eighth and again the ninth, a half-dozen key plays from earlier loomed larger. Panik was sent from second by Phil Nevin on a hard single to left and he cut the corner at third perfectly, scoring the second run of the night. Blach helped kill one potential Cubs rally by cutting behind Albert Almora in the sixth. The center fielder had dropped a one-out bloop into right and he made a hard turn. Blach followed him to first, fielded a throw from Ruggiano, and threw Almora out at second, eliminating a baserunner ahead of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

“We work on that all the time,” said Blach, a former minor league Gold Glove winner. “I saw him rounding pretty hard so I tried to sneak in. We were able to catch a guy sleeping.”

Blach was being modest. It is not a play most pitchers make, not in a 5-0 game. It was simply one of many defensive highlights for the Giants, who did just about everything right until the eighth. When the bullpen started to wobble, the lead was large enough that it didn’t matter. 

The win was the eighth in 10 games for a team that’s threatening to get back into the postseason chase. For all that’s gone wrong, the Giants are just 3 1/2 games behind these Cubs. They’ll try to get another one back Tuesday in a reminder of what could have been: Johnny Cueto against Jon Lester.

Earlier this season, Panik would have hit seventh or eighth against Lester, but Bochy said he’ll get another night atop the lineup. The manager said Panik earned it with his first career night with three extra base hits. After the first leadoff homer of his career — and probably life — Panik doubled twice. That helped build the lead, but it led to some ribbing hours later. As Panik addressed reporters, Matt Cain snuck up behind the scrum.

“Ask him why he didn’t try for third on his second double,” Cain whispered.