Tigers preparing new gameplan for resurgent Zito

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Tigers preparing new gameplan for resurgent Zito

SAN FRANCISCO Some might argue Justin Verlander vs. Barry Zito in Game 1 is a mismatch. Onone side, you have a flamethrower that is the reigning American League MVP andwinner of the pitching Triple Crown in 2011. On the other side, you have asoft-throwing southpaw that hasnt posted an ERA under 4.00 since 2006, when hewas an Oakland Athletic.But while the Giants roster has combined to go 12-for-57 for a .211 careeraverage against Verlander, the Tigers have been even worse against Zito. Manyof Detroits players havent faced Zito sincehis Oaklanddays, but the Tigers collective career average against Zito is .190, with just16 hits in 84 at-bats.After facing their fare share of pitchers with overpowering fastballs on theirway to the World Series, the Tigers must now prepare for a crafty veteran whois still getting big leaguers out without topping 86 miles per hour on theradar gun.We face guys throwing his speed all year, said ALCS MVP Delmon Young, who is2-for-3 with a double facing Zito in his career. Its just baseball. If itsover the plate and you think you can drive it, you take a swing at it. Velocitycan throw you off with offspeed pitches, but if you just keep a simplerapproach, you should have a successful day at least making contact. The Cardinals were just as confident heading into Game 5 of the NLCS, but Zitokept the Giants season alive by keeping St. Louis off the board for 7.2innings. He struck out six in that start and the Tigers plan on closelyexamining that outing and previous ones to put together a gameplan for theWorld Series opener.You have to go over film, said Gerald Laird, who has three hits in 15 at-batsagainst Zito. I got a chance to face him a little bit last year and hes kindof the same guy, but obviously hes added a couple more pitches and his commandhas gotten a lot better. Hes had to change a little bit from the Oakland dayssince his velocity is not there like it used to be, but hes still a greatpitcher.What makes him a great pitcher?Hes one of those guys where you cant do too much withhim, Laird said. You cant try and pull him because hes a guy thatll make apitch away and get you to roll over or pop you inside when youre looking forsomething else. So hes one of those guys where you have to stay up the middleof the field and not try to do too much because hes a pitcher, he knows whathes doing and he knows how to get outs.Austin Jackson, the man who will likely see the first pitch of the World Seriesas Detroits leadoff man, said that Zitos slower pitches end up working in hisfavor.When somebodys throwing not as hard, you try not to pullhim, said Jackson, who is hitless in two at-bats but owns a walk against Zito. I think thats a main focus. When somebodys not throwing as hard,everybody wants to crush it and they end up getting themselves out.So how will Jacksonprepare in order to not get himself out?I think first thing, you definitely have to look at some film and what hesdone to guys similar, other leadoff hitters, Jackson said. Maybe see how he pitchesearlier in counts and how he pitches later in counts.In Zitos last start in St. Louis,his cutter was his bread and butter pitch early before he turned to thebreaking ball in the later innings. Laird said the cutter is tough to lay offbecause its so enticing out of Zitos hand.I was watching the last series, hes got the little cutter and the fastball at84 that you cant be too anxious, Laird said. The funny thing is he knows howto pitch with it. He elevates it, he sinks it, he throws it down and in, hechanges your eye level, he changes speed and hes crafty.Laird said he would tell his teammates to not get too pull-happy against Zito.I tell the guys, you got to go up there with a gameplan and not leave itbecause as soon as you leave your gameplan and try to yank him, hes going tomake a pitch and get you out.Verlander, who requires a much different gameplan, recalled the Zito ofyesteryear.The main thing I remember from Zito was his curveball,Verlander said.I think I was probably in college watching a game of his,and his curveball was just unbelievable, and he still has a good curveball. Butthat thing back when he was with Oaklandwas just unreal, and I hope not to see it.Young, who worked out with his fellow Southern California native over theoffseason following the Giants 2010 World Series win, said he was happy to seeZito bounce back from being left off the postseason roster during that run.He was happy he won a World Series and everything, but hewanted to make sure he could actually contribute so he worked his butt off. Nowhes earned what he wanted. Im happy for him. Barrys back where he used tobe.

Giants spring training Day 6: Bochy looks for improvement on bases

Giants spring training Day 6: Bochy looks for improvement on bases

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants always put together a long list of potential minor league free agents as the offseason approaches and they tend to go hard after two or three players from that group. One of the guys who got the hard sell over the winter was speedy outfielder Wynton Bernard, and the Giants were attractive for reasons beyond the departures of Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco.

“I thought it was a good opportunity, and it also was a good fit for me because I’m from California,” Bernard said. 

Bernard is technically from Padres territory, but that gives him a connection to one of the men he’s hoping to impress. When Bernard was playing for Rancho Bernardo High, he often went up against a Poway High team that included a young Brett Bochy. Bruce never saw Bernard play because his job kept him away from most of Brett’s games, but he should see plenty of the 26-year-old this spring as the Giants look for a needed speed dimension. 

A big part of the staff overhaul was about making sure the Giants fare better on the bases. Roberto Kelly and Billy Hayes are out and Phil Nevin and Jose Alguacil are in. The Giants stole 79 bases last season, ranking eighth in the National League, and it’s not like they made up for the lack of small-ball by hitting the ball out of the park. Advanced metrics — tracked externally and also by the Giants — showed an inability to make an impact on the bases. According to BsR, an all-encompassing metric tracked by FanGraphs, the Giants were below average, ranking 17th in the majors. 

“We just want to be smarter baserunners,” Bochy said. “You always want to be aggressive. Everyone has the same philosophy — run hard — but it’s the old adage ‘strong to compete, smart to win.’”

A full season of Eduardo Nuñez will help, as would 162 games of Hunter Pence — who tends to make things happen on his own — and Joe Panik, one of the team’s smartest runners. Jimmy Rollins could provide speed off the bench, and Bernard hopes to make himself a viable option in the outfield. He stole 23 bags in 28 attempts last season for the Tigers’ Double-A and Triple-A teams and he stole 88 total bases the two seasons before 2016. 

The Giants know the kind of potential Bernard has, so early in the offseason he got a call telling him to hook up with fellow San Diego resident Vince Coleman, a legendary baserunner who would be joining the staff. The two worked out often in advance of spring training. 

“The Giants said he was in the area and I called him 20 minutes later,” Bernard said. “I feel like I can add a different dynamic with my speed.”

Bernard can play all three outfield spots and he sports a .360 on-base percentage in the minors. He’s likely ticketed for Triple-A for now, but a player with the same profile showed up in camp in 2012, and it wasn’t long before Gregor Blanco had locked up a roster spot. 

Whether Bernard is part of the mix, or it’s a Gorkys Hernandez or Nuñez or Kelby Tomlinson, Bochy knows he needs a little more athleticism and baserunning savvy in a division where the games are often won by one run. 

“We probably made more mistakes than we should have last year,” he said. “The numbers show it.”

CUETO UPDATE: The co-ace remains in the Dominican Republic, where he is tending to his father. The Giants don’t have a timetable for Cueto’s arrival, but he didn’t miss anything Saturday. The workout was banged because of rain. 

Cueto is at a hotel a few minutes from the club’s Santo Domingo facility and he has been working out there. The hope is that Cueto’s father soon gets well enough to travel to Arizona, where Cueto can continue to take care of him. 

NEW FACE: Slade Heathcott, a former Yankee, signed a minor league deal with the Giants on Friday. He will be in minor league camp this spring, not big league camp. The Giants liked his athleticism. 

QUOTABLE: “You can always look back, study it, learn from it … the second half, I think for everybody, you learn from it. Did we drop our guard? Hopefully it wasn’t complacency, which lets you think you have a bigger margin for error. Hopefully you learn from it.” — Bochy, when asked about the lesson learned last season. 

Report: Giants sign former Yankees top OF prospect Slade Heathcott

Report: Giants sign former Yankees top OF prospect Slade Heathcott

The Giants reportedly added to their outfield competition by signing former Yankees top prospect and 2009 first-round draft pick, outfielder Slade Heathcott. 

Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports was first to report the news

Heathcott, 26, has only appeared in 17 MLB games, all in the 2015 season for the Yankees. In his short promotion, the lefty batted .400 (10-for-25) with two home runs and two doubles. 

Through multiple stints in the minors, Heathcott has slashed .266/.343/.390 with 26 home runs for his career. 

San Francisco reportedly signed Heathcott to a minor league deal with a big league invite for spring training.