Giants place season in hands of RallyZito

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Giants place season in hands of RallyZito

ST. LOUIS Barry Zitos relationship with Giants fans hasbeen difficult and often unpleasant over the past six years.

But with a season in his hands Friday night, fans arerallying behind Zito as never before. The RallyZito movement is taking off onTwitter, as legions of Giants fans changed their avatar picture to an image ofthe unique left-hander.

Lets just say that many of them are highly entertaining.Were talking about a pitcher who once had a second gig as a jeans model,remember.

But it will be all serious business when Zito takes themound for Game 5, hoping to keep the Giants alive in an NLCS that the St. LouisCardinals lead three games to one. If Zito and Co. can find a way through, theGiants would take the series back to San Francisco where Ryan Vogelsong andMatt Cain would offer authentic hope.

Zito, 34, has been in this position before. In fact, hepitched an elimination game last week at Cincinnati, and even though he didntmake it out of the third inning, the Giants managed to win for a 12thconsecutive time with the left-hander on the mound.

Zito allowed two runs, walked four and gave up a home run inthat start at Cincinnati, but he had a tight strike zone from umpire DanIassogna and only missed badly during one confrontation with Jay Bruce.

ZITO: Season stats

His stuff, actually, wasnt bad.

I don't think it was so much mechanicalmental, Zito said.I think it was just more about nitpicking on the corners too much, and insteadof just being aggressive. I'm going to go out there and be aggressivetomorrow and let my defense work for me.

Not too aggressive, though. The Cardinals led the NL with a.279 average against left-handed pitching, and they took apart MadisonBumgarner in Game 1. Six projected starters hit better than .300 against leftiesin the regular season, with Yadier Molina (.342, eight homers in 111 at-bats),David Freese (.320, five homers in 122 at-bats) and Matt Holliday (.316, 11homers in 155 at-bats) all looming as threats.

There is no bigger lefty basher in the Cardinals lineup thanfirst baseman Allen Craig. The Cal alum hit .354 with eight homers in 127at-bats against them.

Two of Craigs homers came against Zito on Aug. 7, whencoincidentally, the left-hander opposed Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn thesame matchup set for Game 5.

But Zito gave up no other runs in his 6 23 innings whilepitching the Giants to a 4-2 win and thus began the teams current streak of12 consecutive victories with Zito on the mound.

And one other note: He threw to Buster Posey that day.

GAME 5 Lineups: Back to usual in anything but usual game

Zito went back and watched video of that start, both toremind himself of what sequences and pitches worked well, and remind himselfwhat the Cardinals might be expecting from him next.

Yeah, I've already watched everything, Zito said. I justbasically look at what their guys do against lefthanded pitchers.Certain guys have certain tendencies on certain pitches, things they like,things they don't like.

I know these guys.These guys know me. We've allbeen in this league for a while. With the exception of a couple of guysin the lineup we all know what we're up against.

Zito is making his ninth career playoff start, but never onethis deep into the postseason. His only other LCS start came with the As in2006, when he got hit hard by the Detroit Tigers (3 23 innings, seven hits,five runs, two homers) in a Game 1 loss.

The current Tigers await the NL pennant winner in the WorldSeries. Its up to Zito to keep the Giants on the path. If he struggles, Madison Bumgarner will be called upon to bridge the gap.

This is what Zito had to say after his last start at BuschStadium. It seems appropriate to include now:

I always try to have fun playing the game, he said.Sometimes its more fun than others. But I love the chemistry in thisclubhouse. I want to stay healthy, get out there every five and help this teamwin.

Ill let you know at the end of the season how happy I am.

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."