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: Span feeling better, hopes to return to lineup Wednesday

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Giants Notes: Span feeling better, hopes to return to lineup Wednesday

CHICAGO -- Joe Panik's leadoff homer in the series opener was a jolt, but the Giants are a much more dangerous offense when Denard Span is clicking atop the lineup, a spot ahead of Panik, and they hope to have that duo going Wednesday. Span got treatment all day Tuesday and said he could return to the lineup against Kyle Hendricks. 

"The swelling has gone down," Span said of his sprained left thumb. "The thing to do is to come in tomorrow, test it out, and if it feels good, you strap it on."

Span said an X-ray came back clean, but he didn't grab a bat Tuesday to test the thumb, focusing instead on treatment. He is batting .326 in nine games since coming off the DL. His replacement in center this week, Gorkys Hernandez, was 0-for-3 against Jon Lester, lowering his average to .160. 

--- The main story from the second game of this series: Johnny Cueto is now dealing with a second blister, and you can see the lack of movement on his pitches. The Cubs took advantage. Lester didn't need much help while throwing a 99-pitch complete game in two hours and five minutes. 

"He threw a lot more changeups than we've seen in the past," Buster Posey said. "He's shown it in the past but tonight he had good command of it. It wasn't just a show-me pitch. He used it a lot and threw it to lefties as well.

Posey twice grounded short rollers in front of the plate.

--- Posey's throw to nab Javy Baez on Monday was one of the best of the year, and on Tuesday afternoon, Bruce Bochy said, "If he's given a chance, I don't think there's anyone better in the game." That might be true, but Willson Contreras is threatening to get into the conversation. He threw an 85 mph rocket to second in the fifth to nab Eduardo Nuñez. If you're wondering how Lester -- who flat-out has the yips about throwing to first base and doesn't do it -- has allowed just six stolen bases this season, look no further than his young catcher. Long-term, Contreras is the guy I would expect to compete with Posey for Gold Gloves. 

"Nuney, with his speed, can go," Bochy said. "Their catcher made a great throw. Put it right on the money."

--- From before Tuesday's game, what do the relievers think of the new hidden bullpen at Wrigley? And if you missed the Power Rankings the other day, the records are outdated, but there are updates in here on old friends Matt Duffy, Chris Heston, Tommy Joseph, Adalberto Mejia, Yusmeiro Petit and others. Petit in particular is incredible ... just keeps doing his thing. 

--- This play was made by the shortstop. That's good for the old UZR.

Now dealing with a second blister, Cueto gives up three homers to Cubs

Now dealing with a second blister, Cueto gives up three homers to Cubs

CHICAGO — Even after losses, Johnny Cueto tends to find a way to flash a smile or two in post-game interviews. He is as competitive as it gets between the lines, but off the field he embraces a relaxed attitude. 

There was none of that Tuesday night at Wrigley. Cueto wore a dour look while describing a 4-1 loss to the Cubs, perhaps because he is a man searching for answers. Cueto was already pitching with a blister for the first time in his career. On Tuesday, he admitted he’s now trying to make the ball dance while dealing with a second blister. 

The first, on his middle finger, popped up at the end of the spring and has bothered Cueto off and on. The second, on his index finger, formed in St. Louis last week. 

“It’s not an excuse,” Cueto said several times. “I was getting hit.”

The Cubs crushed three homers, including a 470-foot bomb from Kyle Schwarber. All three pitches leaked right over the heart of the plate, and Cueto admitted that he can't get that final twist on the ball as he normally does. A tad of his movement is missing, and hitters are taking advantage. 

“It’s just those pitches I left hanging,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “When you leave pitches hanging or put them right in the middle of the plate, you’re going to pay the price.”

The homers — by Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo — represented 60 percent of the hits Cueto gave up. He struck out eight in six innings.

“It’s a little unlike Johnny to make mistakes like that,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “You like to think you could make a mistake and get away with it, but he didn’t tonight. A couple of fastballs he pulled over the heart of the plate and then one cutter.”

Catcher Buster Posey said the Cubs were on Cueto’s heater, so the duo tried to adjust. You can’t pitch without your fastball, though, and Cueto’s isn’t quite as explosive as it was in his first year with the Giants. The velocity is down a couple of ticks, but it’s unclear if that too is related to the blisters. 

What is clear is that Cueto is a different pitcher in his second season in San Francisco. He has a 4.64 ERA and opposing hitters are batting .253 with 11 homers. Through 10 starts last year, Cueto had a 2.83 ERA and was holding hitters to a .229 average. He had allowed just two homers. 

“Gosh, it’s just probably a few more mistakes than he made last year,” Bochy said. “He’s still competing so well and he gives you a chance to win every game.”

Cueto made it through six despite the long-ball issues, but that wasn’t enough against Jon Lester, who would have faced Cueto in Game 5 last October. Lester needed just 99 pitches to carve up the Giants for a complete game. He threw 70 strikes. 

That’s the type of efficient performance the Giants came to expect from Cueto last year. Cueto still expects it from himself, but his fingers aren’t cooperating. Asked if he would take a short stint on the DL to get right, Cueto said he can’t. He needs to keep pitching and have callouses form. Plus, any break without throwing would be a significant blow to a team trying desperately to stay within shouting distance of a playoff spot. 

“Basically, it makes no sense whatsoever,” to take a break, Cueto said.