Zito adjusts delivery to add late movement

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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.

Maddon: Facing Cueto in Game 5 would have been 'most difficult' task

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Maddon: Facing Cueto in Game 5 would have been 'most difficult' task

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- In an October 25 post on his team-run blog, shortstop Brandon Crawford said he didn't watch the NLCS. 

"The World Series starts tonight," Crawford wrote. "I won’t be watching."

Crawford was hardly alone in that respect. Many of the Giants avoided baseball in the weeks after a crushing NLDS loss to the Chicago Cubs. In an interview with CSN Bay Area on Tuesday -- two months after his season ended -- manager Bruce Bochy said the defeat was the "toughest game I’ve ever had to bounce back off of." There's little good that comes in looking back, and yet, the loss will forever be part of the organization's history. You take the bad with the good. It will also be a huge part of Chicago's story about the first title in 108 years. 

The Cubs have not forgotten how hard it was to cross the first hurdle. Those close to the team say the potential of having a Game 5 at home is brought up often within the organization. A Cubs executive said Joe Maddon mentioned Johnny Cueto during a front office gathering leading up to the Winter Meetings, saying he is still grateful that he didn't have to face Cueto and Madison Bumgarner in a must-win game at what would have been a nervous Wrigley Field. During his Winter Meetings press conference on Tuesday, Maddon again brought up that thought without being asked.

A reporter asked him what stood out about the World Series as Maddon drove home for the winter. He pivoted to a different round. 

"It wasn't that (the World Series), it was Game 4 against San Francisco," Maddon said. "We did not want to see Game 5. I thought facing Cueto in Game 5 would be the most difficult thing we had to do. I thought it was necessary that we won Game 4 in San Francisco to progress as well as we did. I was more focused on that win than anything else."

That won't help much for a Giants organization still feeling the sting of a blown three-run lead. To a man, from team executives to scouts to coaches to players, the Giants are sure that they would have won in Chicago with Cueto and Bumgarner throwing every pitch. Vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean confirmed Wednesday that Bumgarner was ready to reprise the role he played in Game 7 of the World Series two years ago. 

"Everything at that point was 'the kitchen sink' and we've seen Boch operate under those circumstances and we've seen our players step up," Sabean said.

The Giants always intended on pursuing Mark Melancon -- they tried at the trade deadline and came up short -- but the Game 4 collapse was the final straw. It became 100 percent clear that there was no other way forward. The Giants could not rely on in-house options or a second-tier free agent. Melancon signed a four-year, $62 million deal on Monday that the Giants hope will prevent another first-round exit. 

"It became pretty obvious to the ball club, obviously, and moreso our fan base," Sabean said. "It was our greatest need and a huge move ... You have to win the games you're supposed to win."

Why the Giants are likely done making big offseason additions

Why the Giants are likely done making big offseason additions

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Giants spent Monday huddled in a suite at the Gaylord National Resort, putting the finishing touches on the offseason’s big move. By Wednesday afternoon, team officials were scattering.

Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy headed back to San Francisco, where they’ll help introduce Mark Melancon at a Friday press conference. Bobby Evans and Dick Tidrow went off in search of a good BBQ joint. It was a relaxed group, one that knows the heavy lifting is done. 

The Giants are set in their rotation and bullpen, with any further additions coming as non-roster invitees. They would like more bench depth, but the lone open spot in the lineup is in left field, and there’s a commitment to give Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker a shot. 

There are several big outfield names left on the market, but the Giants are already at about $200 million in payroll, $5 million above the competitive balance tax. Because they’re paying the tax for the third consecutive year, any additional dollar spent would be taxed at 50 percent. 

So, say the Giants signed a Jon Jay-type. Jay got a one-year, $8 million deal with the Cubs, but it would essentially be a $12 million deal in San Francisco. The same holds true for the trade market, and while the Giants are open-minded about additions before spring training, it may be hard to find the right fit. 

The Giants checked in on Detroit’s J.D. Martinez, but Evans said any deal for Martinez or a similar veteran (Jay Bruce, who makes $13 million, is among those available) would have to include a significant salary being sent back to the other team to balance the books. It’s difficult to find the player who could be sent to a team like Detroit and balance out much of the incoming salary. Martinez is scheduled to make $11.75 million next year. The Giants have eight players making at least $11 million in 2017, but all but Matt Cain are locked into key roles. The three other players who could eat up a chunk of that salary — Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Matt Moore — are franchise building blocks.

Cain would be the only big salary that could be removed without leaving a new hole, but even if a team was willing to take it on (extremely unlikely) in some form, and you ignored the fact that Cain is competing for the fifth starter spot, there’s a zero percent chance the Giants ask their longest-tenured player to waive his no-trade clause and accept a deal to a rebuilding team.

This is all a long way of saying what you already knew if you were soaking everything in this week: The Giants have gone over $200 million in total CBT payroll for the first time and don’t intend to add much more to that number in the offseason. 

As a fan, it’s your right to make the argument that you buy enough garlic fries and giraffe hats and No. 28 jerseys for the Giants to keep pushing into Dodger-Yankee territory. But both of those teams have also signaled a desire to get back under the tax at some point, and the Giants can counter that they’ve been as aggressive as any big-market team over the past 13 months, shelling out $313 million to two starters, a closer and a center fielder, and giving massive extensions to fan favorites Crawford and Belt. 

As the Giants left National Harbor, they were thrilled to have picked up their first choice — Melancon — for closer. The important work is done, the payroll is about set, and the camp competitions will begin soon. The marquee one will be in left. Williamson and Parker will form a partnership for about $1 million combined. 

“I think at this point they need playing time,” Bochy said on our Giants Insider Podcast. “Parker has had a lot more at-bats in the minor leagues than Mac. What I do like about Parker is he cut back on the strikeouts, he laid off on some of those secondary pitches down below the strike zone and did a better job of that. Mac had to deal with a couple of injuries but he got on a good roll there. It’s nice to have two potential power guys, which is something we need.”

You can listen to the full Bochy podcast here. You can watch the Melancon press conference on Friday at 1 p.m. on CSN Bay Area. What you shouldn’t do, barring an unforeseen change in the organization’s thinking or the market, is expect another big splash.