Zito adjusts delivery to add late movement

676244.jpg

Zito adjusts delivery to add late movement

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Barry Zito moved his spring locker from his customary corner because he felt too claustrophobic in the old spot.

Hes trying to free up his delivery, too.

Zito was noticeably different as he threw from the stretch position in his first bullpen session of the spring on Sunday. He stood in a partial crouch and bent at the knee with his front leg.

The changes were the result of an offseason with noted pitching coach and former big leaguer Tom House. The goal is to incorporate more drive and momentum down the mound.

You get down the mound faster, said Zito, who is expected to open as the No. 5 starter. And when you have more momentum that you're transferring, it might equivocate to more arm speed. I'm just trying to get late movement. If velocity comes, great.

Catcher Eli Whiteside caught Zitos session and said he had more oomph. He looked good.

Zitos game has never been about velocity as much as location and deception. He said the delivery tweaks should help with that.

They talk about the tunnel, when all of your pitches look like they're coming out of the same tunnel, he said. That's ideal. I want all the pitches to look the same coming out of the hand. That's where you make your money.

Sure sounds like Zito was tipping his pitches in the past, doesnt it?

The left-hander wouldnt acknowledge that possibility when asked about it, only saying, I think there's always room for improvement.

His bullpen session Sunday wasnt nearly as eye-popping as his first as a Giant in 2007, a few months after he signed his seven-year, 126 million contract.

Zito needed a utility belt for that unforgettable session. As Giants coaches watched in bewilderment, he pulled out a tape measure, marked a landing spot, came set, extended his hands behind his head, took a giant, exaggerated step off the back of the mound and then strode toward the plate. Afterward, pitching coach Dave Righetti offered some brutally honest and skeptical public comments. Zito was back to his familiar delivery two days later.

Zito said changes, then and now, are designed with the same momentum-driven concepts in mind.

Obviously when you have an offseason to fumble with things, you have more leeway, Zito said. But it's nothing new under the sun. It's something I was working on when I was on the DL last year, just getting down the mound faster.

Timmy does it, Zito said of Tim Lincecum, who almost appears to flow forward as he drives to the mound. Timmys got it all figured out.

As a No. 5 starter, the Giants dont need Zito to pitch up to his 19 million salary. (He still has 20 million guaranteed next year, too, and a 7 million buyout on an option for 2014.)

They simply need him to throw more strikes, work something near to six innings and hand the game over to the bullpen. Zito, 33, left the impression he wants to do more than that.

I think I've made progress, said Zito, who was 3-4 with a 5.87 ERA in 13 games (nine starts). Just keep working and move forward, don't look back. Yeah, I feel like I've made some progress on it. As the body gets aged, you've got to be a little more conscious of things that came a lot of times without effort when you were young.

Should this be made into a drastic change?

Whatever you want to make it into, Zito said. It's pretty subtle actually, just from a feel standpoint from the starting point. As far as when it manifests in momentum, that's when it's a little more noticeable.

Zitos mentality has been written to death over the life of his Giants career. At least theres a fresh angle on it now that hes enjoying married life.

It feels good. It feels the same, he said. It's baseball as long as we go out and have fun things end up pretty good. It's just about keeping it fun and light."

How does he keep it fun when its often been the opposite?

It's an individual approach that I have, he said, smiling a bit. It's more of something I just keep it balled up, keep the energy there. It's a magic formula.

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.