Pablo powers Giants to win ninth straight Zito start

891567.jpg

Pablo powers Giants to win ninth straight Zito start

BOX SCORE

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.

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a very important fact you need to keep in mind when talk of Johnny Cueto’s opt-out comes up, as it so often will over the next six weeks: The Giants always expected him to opt-out after this season, from the moment the ink was dry on the six-year, $130-million contract. 

When you sign at the top of your game and have a chance to hit the market at 31 years old and cash out a second time, you take it. Those are just the rules of professional sports. On the day Cueto was introduced, his agent, Bryce Dixon, said the two-year opt-out was important because they felt Cueto didn’t get a totally fair shot at free agency. 

“Johnny, a little bit unfairly, had a lot of questions about his arm,” Dixon said in December of 2015. “I felt we could reestablish his actual value … He knows he’s as good as (David) Price and (Zack) Greinke, but his situation was a little different.”

The Giants were fine with this, too. The flip side of the opt-out is that if you have the chance to pay a dominant right-hander $46 million over two years, and then escape his mid- to late-thirties, you do it. Every time. You don’t even blink. 

So, here we are, in June of the second year of that deal, with reports that Cueto will opt out. You should take a deep breath because you should have already expected this. But if you didn’t, take comfort in this: By all indications, Cueto has not made a decision, even with the Giants having an unimaginably poor season. 

First of all, Cueto can't make a decision in June. What if the blisters return and he repeats his April ERA a couple more times? What if his elbow starts barking? There are no guarantees with pitchers, and until Cueto gets through the second season, there will be no finality with his decision. 

Aside from the fact that he really can’t make that decision, though, sources insist Cueto hasn’t made up his mind or even thought much about it. People familiar with his thinking continue to say the focus has been baseball all season long, from spring training through his last start. 

Cueto is said to be happy in San Francisco and he enjoys pitching in front of the crowd at AT&T Park. His biggest concern has been wins and losses, and in that respect, this has been a disappointing year for all involved. 

That record has brought the Giants to a crossroads, and this is where it gets interesting. The easy solution is to trade Cueto next month, avoid the opt-out situation entirely, and add prospects to a system lacking them. But, it’s complicated. The Giants do not intend a full teardown, and if they’re going for it again in 2018 — with their core of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Madison Bumgarner, etc. locked in, that’s the plan — they’ll want that second ace at the top of the rotation. And if Bumgarner doesn’t return to form after an injury, they’ll need Cueto’s presence. 

The Giants have until July 31 to decide what to do with Cueto. He has until three days after the World Series ends to decide what to do with his contract. Here in June, by all indications, those decisions haven’t been made. 

Giants lineup: Pence hitting third, Panik back into two-hole

Giants lineup: Pence hitting third, Panik back into two-hole

Clutch, late-game hitting by Hunter Pence has propelled him to the three hole as the Giants look to bounce back vs the Braves. Bruce Bochy has released the rest of his lineup for Game 2 of the series...

San Francisco Giants:
1. Kelby Tomlinson (R) 3B
2. Joe Panik (L) 2B
3. Hunter Pence (R) RF
4. Buster Posey (R) 1B
5. Austin Slater (R) LF
6. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
7. Nick Hundley (R) C
8. Gorkys Hernandez (R) CF
9. Matt Cain (R) P

Atlanta Braves:
1. Ender Inciarte (L) CF
2. Brandon Phillips (R) 2B
3. Nick Markakis (L) RF
4. Matt Kemp (R) LF
5. Matt Adams (L) 1B
6. Kurt Suzuki (R) C
7. Dansby Swanson (R) SS
8. Johan Camargo (S) 3B
9. Jaime Garcia (L) P