Reds to start Mike Leake in Game 4

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Reds to start Mike Leake in Game 4

CINCINNATI The Giants are hitting .121 in three games of this NL Division Series and they still havent received an out from a starting pitcher in the sixth inning.Yet somehowThey will attempt to hold onto their improbable playoff lives by putting their faith in a most improbable left-handed pitcher. Yes, Barry Zito is their champion today.Here are some key matchups as we approach Game 4 at Great American Ball Park:--Less than five hours before the first pitch Wednesday, the Reds officially received permission from Major League Baseball to replace injured Game 1 starter Johnny Cueto with right-hander Mike Leake.Leake will start Game 4 and Mat Latos would take the mound if the Giants can force a winner-take-all Game 5 on Thursday.--For a last-minute replacement, the Reds could do worse than Leake to oppose Zito.Leake, 24, was 8-9 with a 4.58 ERA but threw a complete game the last time he faced the Giants June 29 at AT&T Park. Leake allowed nine hits and just one run, when Pablo Sandoval took him deep in the ninth, to beat Matt Cain.Sandoval also doubled in that game and is 7 for 10 with two homers and two doubles in his career against the Arizona State product. Hunter Pence is 8 for 16 (.333) with two doubles and a homer. Ryan Theriot is the only other Giant with more than 10 at-bats against him.Leake is a control pitcher once compared to Greg Maddux, and not just by anyone. Doug Mapson, the current Giants special assistant and former Cubs scout who signed Maddux, said hes compared the future Hall of Famer to one amateur player in all the reports hes written over the years. Yep, it was Leake.Still, the right-hander has allowed 201 hits in 179 innings. So hes far from untouchable. Hes 4-5 with a 5.54 Era, .313 opponents average and whopping 17 home runs allowed in 16 starts at Cincinnati this season. Amazingly, Leake has allowed more homers than walks (15) at Great American Ball Park this season.Leake had a 4.01 ERA prior to the All-Star break and a 5.27 ERA after it. That's why he had been left off the Reds' NLDS roster.--MLB medical officials approved the Reds roster move after reviewing statements from Reds trainers, who maintained that Cuetos strained oblique would limit him to one start, maximum, in the NLCS should Cincinnati advance. Cueto, who exited after eight pitches in Game 1, would be ineligible to return to the Reds active roster until the World Series.--Barry Zito has pitched against the Reds 12 times in his career (11 starts) and his 6.25 ERA is his highest against any NL opponent.But its been a different outcome this season in two starts against them. He had nearly identical outings April 25 on the road and June 30 at home, both times holding Cincinnati to a run in six innings.The Reds were patient while drawing six walks against Zito in his last start against them, but the left-hander wasnt missing by much.--Zito is expected to throw to Buster Posey as Giants manager Bruce Bochy seeks to keep his regulars together and his best defensive alignment on the field.Zito threw to Posey in just seven of his 32 starts and was 2-1 with a 4.86 ERA as the Giants posted a 5-2 record. The left-hander spent most of the season throwing to backup Hector Sanchez, a pairing partly designed in the spring because coaches knew Posey would require regular rest as he recovered from last years horrific leg injury. Zito was 13-7 with a 3.97 ERA in starts with Sanchez as the Giants posted a 16-9 record.--Is there any Giants starter that Brandon Phillips doesnt have numbers against? The Reds second baseman is 8 for 19 (.421) with three doubles, five walks and zero strikeouts in his career against Zito.Center fielder Drew Stubbs is 5 for 13 (.385) and even lefty-hitting right fielder Jay Bruce is 5 for 14 (.357) with a home run. But Joey Votto is just 3 for 18 (.167) with no extra-base hits and just two walks in his career against the finesse lefty. If it were a regular-season game, Votto might be getting a day off.Although Ryan Ludwick has mashed lefties this season, hes just a .231 hitter (6 for 26) with a home run against Zito.Scott Rolen was the only Reds player to homer off Zito in two starts against Cincinnati this season.--If youve forgotten, the Giants are 11-0 in the last 11 games with Zito on the mound. Thats the longest stretch for a Giants starter since Bill Swift in 1992.

Cody Ross joins NBC Sports Bay Area's Giants TV coverage

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AP

Cody Ross joins NBC Sports Bay Area's Giants TV coverage

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — While rehabbing an injury in 2014, Cody Ross played for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. When he walked to the plate, Ross got a standing ovation. 

“I absolutely didn’t expect that,” Ross said. “I really didn’t know that there was such a big Giants following there. It was pretty neat. I got teary-eyed. It was incredible.”

That experience, along with recent trips to Napa and Pebble Beach, showed Ross that his contributions to the 2010 title run will never be forgotten in Northern California, Nevada, or anywhere else you’ll find Giants fans. This season, Ross will once again be in front of an adoring fan base. The longtime Major League outfielder will work with NBC Sports Bay Area as an analyst on Giants pre- and post-game shows.

“I’ve always had some interest in doing that,” Ross said. “I can’t say that was the first thing that came to mind when I was a player, but now that I’m out of the game and looking for different avenues to stay in the game, TV is probably the next best thing besides being on the field.”

Ross, 36, actually has been on the field this spring. He has worked with the Giants as a camp instructor, paying particular attention to the outfielders, naturally. The Giants are hopeful that Ross can help a promising group of minor league outfielders, and he has spent much of his time this spring working with infielders — Aaron Hill, Jae-Gyun Hwang and others — who are trying to add left field to the resume.  

Getting back on the field was something Ross was eager to do, and the Giants were the perfect fit since they train near his home north of Scottsdale. Ross still is inundated with autograph seekers at Scottsdale Stadium, despite the fact that it’s been six years since he wore orange and black. When he visits San Francisco, the greetings tend to be the same. Fans constantly approach Ross to shake hands and simply say “thank you for what you did in 2010.”

“That means a lot,” Ross said. “They don’t have to do that. It just kind of goes to show how amazing the fan base is and how passionate they are. They don’t forget.”

It would be hard to. Ross joined the Giants on a waiver claim in August of 2010 and ended up as a key bat during the title run, hitting .294 in the playoffs with five homers and 10 RBI. He was the MVP of the NLCS. 

Ross played one more season with the Giants before stints with the Red Sox, Diamondbacks and A’s. Throughout his career, he said, he would watch pregame shows to try and get updates on opposing teams. He'll get on the other side of the camera for the first time in late April. 

"I’m excited," Ross said. "It should be a fun experience, and it's going to be nice to be back in the Bay Area."

Javier Lopez joins NBC Sports Bay Area's Giants TV coverage

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AP

Javier Lopez joins NBC Sports Bay Area's Giants TV coverage

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Javier Lopez walked through the clubhouse the other day casually flipping a weighted ball into the air. He looked like a left-hander getting ready for another season, and Lopez will in fact spend plenty of time in San Francisco this year. He won’t be on the field, though. He’ll be watching it. 

Lopez will join NBC Sports Bay Area as a studio analyst this season, adding to a schedule that also will include a fair amount of time in the booth with Duane Kuiper. The transition is one Lopez has been thinking about for years, and he said he used to do mock broadcasts from the bullpen in order to mix it up and keep his attention on the game. 

[RELATED: Matt Williams joins NBC Sports Bay Area's Giants TV coverage]

“It’s something I definitely was considering toward the end of my career,” Lopez said. “Being recently retired and knowing a good amount of the guys that are on this team still, I think it’ll be a different perspective that I’ll be able to give.”

Lopez is the second left-handed reliever and Core Four member to jump into TV work in the first year of retirement. Jeremy Affeldt joined the network last season and the two will split the road games that Mike Krukow will miss this season, with Affeldt focusing primarily on NL Central series and Lopez handling most of the East Coast trips. 

To prepare, Lopez, who has had two stints in camp as an instructor, has been chatting with former teammates about the intricacies of playing other positions and taking at-bats. He has bounced ideas off players like Buster Posey, but he’s also looking forward to providing the unique perspective of a side-arming left-handed reliever

“Even with the pitching staff, I see things through a different lens than most people,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from everybody.”

Lopez was a clubhouse leader throughout his time with the Giants and he was a co-winner of the Willie Mac Award last season, his seventh in San Francisco. When the postseason was over, Lopez wasn’t sure he would be taking the TV step right away. He made a small list of contenders he would play for in 2017, with a focus on trying to win a fifth ring. 

“There were a couple of phases for me in particular,” he said. “I think I was thinking about knowing for sure that I wasn’t going to be a San Francisco Giant again. That was tough, but in another sense, this isn’t my first team that I’ve been on. I know how the business works. They have a lot of hard throwers as they’ve shown this spring and that’s the way that baseball is trending in the bullpen. We knew that the opportunity here wasn’t going to be there, and I was okay with that. 

“There were some teams I really wanted to go to and some places that I wanted to play, but ultimately those places started filling up pretty quickly with the relievers. The opportunities were available and I could have played — there were offers out there — but I didn’t see myself in those uniforms. If my heart’s not in it, that’s not a good way to go.”