Pablo powers Giants to win ninth straight Zito start

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Pablo powers Giants to win ninth straight Zito start

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SAN FRANCISCO In 2010, Barry Zito was left off thepostseason roster altogether and Pablo Sandoval was essentially a role player.The times they are a-changin.Zito picked up his 13th win of the season Thursday at AT&T Park andappears poised to take one of four spots in the playoff rotation. Sandoval hita home run from each side of the plate for the first time in his career to leadan offensive charge in a 9-2 sweep-clinching win over the Colorado Rockies. Sandoval snapped a 161 at-bat homerless streak in the first inning ofWednesdays win and one-upped himself in the series finale. He homered in thefirst inning again --- this time as a right-hander -- on a fastball fromRockies southpaw Jorge De La Rosa. Sandoval then took advantage of an inning-extendingerror in the fourth and, as a left-hander, turned on an 0-2 slider headed forhis back ankle and deposited it in the arcade seats for a three-run bomb and a 7-2lead. Buster Posey followed Sandovals second shot with one of his own for theGiants first back-to-back big flies since April and the rout was officiallyon.I feel great at home plate, Sandoval said. When you arelike that, everything is going your way. I just come every single day here andhave fun out there.While Sandovals first home run Thursday accounted for onerun instead of the three his second blast drove in, it may be more noteworthysimply because he hit it right-handed. In 2010, Sandovals splits were drastic.He hit .227 with one home run right-handed and .282 with 12 bombs as a lefty.That trend continued into 2011, when he even tried hitting left-handed againstsouthpaws in four plate appearances as he built up strength following the first of his two hamatesurgeries.I feel great from the right side; Im strong, my swing is there,Sandoval said. When I was struggling in 2010, I wasnt hitting wellright-handed. But this year I just focused, and last season, on trying to workon my stamina on swings from my right-handed side, so I feel great.Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he doesnt think the injury was a factor inSandovals slump as much as his mindset was.I think once he hit the one last night, it just seemed to relax him a littlebit more, Bochy said. He has to realize, he doesnt have to hit home runs.Hes strong enough to hit the ball out of the ballpark. Those swings were notout of control. He got some good pitches. Actually the ball he hit left-handedwas a pretty good pitch.Like Bochy, Sandovals teammate Angel Pagan thinks the Pandas prodigous poweris back because of his frame of mind.He never got out of his confidence; he was just going outthere trying to get it done, Pagan said. It happened to me and Im sure ithappened to a lot of my teammates. Something you cant lose is your confidencewhen youre at the plate. He just kept believing. He kept working in the cagetrying to get back to his swing and finally got it.Zito may have finally got it, too, following season afterdisappointing season since signing a bloated contract with San Francisco in2006. The slow-throwing southpaw walked off the mound with two outs in thesixth inning to a standing ovation, despite allowing a season-high 10 hits.The fans have just been great, Zito said. Theyre the best fans in baseball,especially as we come down to the October part of the year. They were justelectric back in 2010 and theyre all very excited to be out here. We loveseeing that.Fans loved seeing Zito in control (he walked one) and limiting the damage (he onlyallowed two runs on those 10 hits). The Giants have won behind Zito over his last nine starts and Bochy has an ideawhy.When hes pounding the strike zone and commanding hispitches, hes going to have a good game. Hes smart, he knows what hes doingout there and hes got four pitches to work with. Hes really throwing the ballwell.Bochy said that avoiding the free passes and not getting flustered with men onbase was crucial for Zito on Thursday as well.Hes very locked in, getting the ball where he wants andstaying away from those walks, Bochy said. Thats whats always hurt him inthe past. Occasionally he would get out of synch and walk two or three guys inan inning, setting up the big inning. Hes staying away from that and doing a greatjob of limiting the damage if something happens.Its all about keeping your composure and your poise outthere and making pitches. Hes doing a great job of that. They did have someguys on base. He had to make pitches at times to get out of it. Its all aboutkeeping your concentration and just keep going.The Giants, despite a nearly insurmountable lead in the N.L.West, are keeping their concentration on the task at hand.The view looks great right now, but we have to really make sure. We cantthink about playoffs right now, said Pagan, who acknowledged that its easiersaid than done.Sandoval, who unlike Pagan was with the Giants when thedivision title came down to the last day of the season in 2010, agreed with hisnew teammate.We are happy, but were not satisfied, Sandoval said. Wereloose; were having fun. Its not over yet, so you have to keep fighting.Bochy is certainly setting an example when it comes tokeeping it loose. He showed up to his pregame meeting with reporters in a 49ershat to honor Alex Smith. RELATED: Bochy shows support for 49ers' Smith
Were 1-0 with that hat, he said after the game.With the Dodgers in progress in Cincinnati after Bochys work was done, theskipper couldve relaxed with a glass of wine and watched to see if his teams magicnumber would drop to three or stay at four. So would he stick around to watchthe game?No, Im probably going to go to dinner, to be honest. Iveseen enough baseball today. Its up to us to take care of business.

Giants Notes: Marrero hopes to be back; Posey faces Romo

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Giants Notes: Marrero hopes to be back; Posey faces Romo

SAN FRANCISCO — About 45 minutes after the Giants announced that Chris Marrero had been designated for assignment, the left fielder walked up to the locker of one of the newcomers. Marrero patted Christian Arroyo on the back and shook his hand, congratulating him for his first call-up to the big leagues. 

“That’s my boy,” he said later. “I was really happy for him.”

The Arroyo promotion and the addition of Drew Stubbs signaled the end of Marrero’s April run in the lineup. He was cut and Aaron Hill was put on the disabled list, clearing two roster spots. Just as Arroyo forced his way up with three huge weeks in Triple-A, Marrero forced his way onto the opening day roster with a monster spring that included eight homers. He had just five hits in 38 at-bats before Monday’s moves.

“The team is struggling and we’ve got to make some moves,” Marrero said. “I believe in myself and I’ll go down and get back to how I felt in spring training. This is what I’ve worked for my whole life. I lost the feel that I had in the spring. Things were a little rushed. I came in and worked hard every day to try and find it. I’m going to keep working. I haven’t lost confidence in myself.”

Marrero was put in a bit of a tough spot. He played just about every day in Scottsdale because he was trying to win a job, and when he finally did make it, some Giants coaches felt he was a bit worn down. The team’s brutal start to the season put a glaring spotlight on left field, and this move became obvious over time.

Marrero said he likes it here, and that if he isn’t claimed, he will go to Triple-A Sacramento and try to find that spring swing and get back up here. Count Bruce Bochy among those hoping it goes down that way. 

“We thought a lot of him and still do,” Bochy said. “He’s a good hitter.”

--- Arroyo had a 4.4 GPA in high school, so the Giants knew he was smart. He’s savvy, too. There’s nothing like picking up the longest-tenured player on the team, literally. After snagging a ricochet in the fourth inning last night, Arroyo kept running and lifted Cain off the grass. They then chest-bumped. 

“That just kind of happened,” Arroyo said. “He hit it, I looked at Cain going down and saw the ball, went running and got it, instincts took over. I made a throw and got the guy. It was a fun play. In that moment, I was just pumped up. It’s one of those plays you get excited over.”

Arroyo said he heard Cain yelling and he thought he was hurt, so that’s why he ran over. Cain did have an X-ray on the foot that got hit but it came back negative. 

“Christian did a great job handling himself,” Cain said. “He picked me up big-time.”

The best part of the play came hours after it was made. As Cain talked to reporters, Brandon Crawford — who was in position to scoop the grounder in the fourth — was standing at his locker, a few feet away.

“Let it go through next time,” he said softly.

--- Denard Span was out on the field Monday afternoon, but he’ll miss another two to four days with that right shoulder injury. This will truly be a day-to-day situation. If at any point the Giants feel they need coverage, Span can be put on the 10-day DL. 

--- Hill apparently felt discomfort after playing long toss on the road trip. He can swing a bat but he was going to be kept from throwing for three to four days, so he was put on the DL.

--- This spring, Posey was asked about facing Sergio Romo. Here was his long tendencies-filled answer. Posey faced Romo in the eighth and flied out. 

"It was a little weird, I'm not going to lie," he said. "I caught him for so long. It's definitely interesting being in the batter's box instead of being the plate."

Was there a nod or "hey what's up" look between the two?

"I've caught him long enough to know you don't look at him," Posey said, smiling. 

--- If you missed it, the standing ovation for Romo was a very, very cool moment. Also, here's my story on Madison Bumgarner, who spoke for the first time since his injury. And here's the first story on Arroyo, with a fun anecdote about his mom. She'll be in the stands Tuesday. And finally, my game story from last night. 

On night Giants turn to youth, Matt Cain turns back the clock

On night Giants turn to youth, Matt Cain turns back the clock

SAN FRANCISCO — In the second inning Tuesday, as Christian Arroyo strapped on his gear and grabbed his bat, Buster Posey looked over at Matt Cain. 

“Goodness,” he said. “He looks really young.”

There was a time when that was said about Cain, now 32, and Posey, now 30. They broke in as fresh-faced kids, too, but these days they’re the grizzled vets, anchors of a clubhouse that got some fresh blood on Monday. Arroyo brought the energy to AT&T Park and Cain and Posey did the rest. 

The starter, in the midst of a surprising resurgence, threw six dominant innings against the visiting Dodgers. Posey threw one runner out at second to end the eighth and back-picked Justin Turner at second with two down in the ninth, clinching a 2-1 win that felt like a must-have in the clubhouse. 

“I mean, we needed it,” Posey said. “I don’t think you can underscore it. We definitely needed it.”

The front office sensed that after a sweep at Coors Field. After weeks of saying the Giants had to be patient with Arroyo, Bobby Evans pulled the trigger Monday morning. Drew Stubbs was also added to temporarily take over in center. The message was clear: A sense of urgency was needed throughout the organization, and the players responded with perhaps their cleanest game of the year. 

Cain did the heavy lifting, allowing just two hits and a walk before his right hamstring bit. He was pulled while warming up in the seventh, but he’s optimistic. Cain missed two weeks last year with the same injury, but he said it’s not as bad this time around. 

“Last year it was something that was definitely more on my mind when I did it,” he said. “I pushed too hard. I thought we were being a lot smarter today.”

The bullpen backed Cain, with Steven Okert, George Kontos, Derek Law (who allowed a run but shut down further damage) and Mark Melancon carrying it home. Melancon ran into some trouble in the ninth when Turner alertly took second on a spiked curveball. With Adrian Gonzalez up, the Dodgers were a single away from tying it up. Turner strayed too far off the bag and Posey gunned him down.

“It was just instinct,” he said. “He was anticipating a ball being put in play and took that one or two extra stutter steps. 

Melancon emphatically yelled on the mound. Cain watched the final out from the trainer’s room. The win was his first over the Dodgers in four seasons, and while on the mound, Cain lowered his ERA to a staff-best 2.42.

“He did a great job locating his fastball,” Posey said. “He threw his curveball for strikes, expanded the zone with his fastball, mixed some changeups in. He did a nice job.”

The approach looks sustainable, and the Giants need it. Madison Bumgarner had another MRI on Monday and while the Giants don’t have a firm timetable yet, manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged that it will “be a while.” 

In the meantime, the Giants will try to find a mix that works. Hunter Pence was moved up to leadoff Monday and he drove in a needed insurance run. The infield trio of Brandon Crawford, Arroyo and Joe Panik combined for the first run, with Crawford doubling, Arroyo moving him over, and Panik skying a ball deep enough for a sacrifice fly. 

Bochy praised Arroyo for his approach in that moment, and the rookie said he was focused hard on getting Crawford over. It was the kind of at-bat the Giants teach in the minors, and they hope more is on the way. The Triple-A squad is more talented than it’s been in years, and with big leaguers continuing to drop, the depth will be needed. 

As he got dressed Monday night, Arroyo rattled off facts from the night’s River Cats game and talked about how much he believes in the players there. He’s part of a wave that’s coming slowly, a group that includes Ty Blach, who faces a monumental task Tuesday. The young left-hander will go up against Clayton Kershaw as the Giants try to keep the momentum going.

“We’ve got our hands full tomorrow,” Bochy said. “We know it. I thought tonight was huge for us to stop things.”