Zito pitching way into Giants' postseason plans

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Zito pitching way into Giants' postseason plans

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SAN FRANCISCO Way back on August 7 in St. Louis, Giants starter Barry Zito took the mound, looking to rebound from a shellacking he took in his previous start against the New York Mets when he gave up seven runs in 4.1 innings.
Ten starts later, and his team has not lost a single game in which Zito got the ball, including Thursday afternoons 7-3 win over the Arizona Diamonbacks. The 34-year-old Las Vegas native picked up his 14th win of the season by throwing six generally effective innings and allowing three earned runs.
Has Zito earned his way into the starting rotation for the playoffs? Thats a decision that Bruce Bochy places in the category of a good problem to have.
These are things were discussing. Theyre tough decisions. Its great to have these hard choices ahead of us, said the manager, whose club closed out the home portion of its schedule. Guys are throwing the ball well, and Im talking about all five starters. Its a nice luxury to have. That will be decided in the last couple games. Zito is a guy that we have so much confidence in, just like all of them. Well talk about it. We still have some time.

RATTO: Playoff decisions still loom

Its generally thought that it will be either Zito of Ryan Vogelsong who starts the fourth game of the postseason, behind Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Baumgarner. While their numbers are similar (Zito is 14-8, 4.19; while Vogelsong is 13-9, 3.58), there is something to be said for the fact that the Giants havent lost a single Zito start in a month and half. Its the longest such franchise streak of its kind in more than 20 years, when the Giants won 11 in a row behind Bill Swift in 1992.
Zito gives much of the credit to his teammates, who have averaged 6.4 runs per game over his last 10 starts.
These boys definitely come out playing great D and swinging the bats, Zito said. I just try to go out there and have fun, and keep the other team down and keep it close. Our offense has surprised many people this year.
So has Zito, who will post his first winning record in six seasons in a Giants uniform.
Hes done a great job. Hes had a real nice year and its been fun to watch how hes bounced back and really put together a really good year, Bochy said.
Belt in left a work in progress
It wasnt the smoothest afternoon with the glove for Brandon Belt, who got a rare start in left field as Bochy experiments a bit with his lineup after clinching a playoff spot. The 24-year-old misplayed a pair of catchable balls, including one that cost the team a run in the sixth inning.
Bochy chalked up that one to the early afternoon sun, which was beaming straight down into Belts eyes while a line drive screamed towards the outfield wall.
This left field in the day, its as tough as any left field in baseball in any park, Bochy said. With us not taking BP today, Belt didnt have a chance to go out there and take some balls. He had some tough plays, but Im glad he had those tough plays, to be honest. I dont know what were going to do, to be honest, each game in the postseason. We do want to have that option, especially the way hes swinging the bat.
Belt said: Ive generally felt comfortable out there. There are some balls that are a little bit tougher for me to handle, especially line drives right at me. Thats just part of it. I think the more I play out there and the more experience Ill get the easier it will get.
Belt shifted to first base after Buster Posey was removed from the lineup, putting Gregor Blanco in left. Blanco made an impressive sliding catch in foul territory in the top of the ninth inning with one out.
Praise for Marco
Giants infielder Marco Scutaro increased his hitting streak to 15 games with a two-run longball in the second inning. It was the first home run hes belted over that span, and hes now hitting .452 (28-for-62) with 14 RBI during what is the longest active hitting streak in the majors.
Posey said: Hes a professional hitter. He has an idea of what he wants to do each at-bat, depending on whos on the mound. Hes able to make adjustments mid at-bat, and hes fun to watch. Hes a guy I remember watching before I was here, and always appreciated the way he played the game.
Scutaro, of course, was acquired mid-season, as was Hunter Pence, who also had a two-run homer in the six-run second inning.
They have made such a huge difference in this ballclub, said Bochy. Great job by Brian Sabean to bring these guys in. The presence of Pence, we needed somebody to help out the middle of the order, especially what happened earlier in the season.
Scutaro, I cant say enough about what hes done. Hes just been so consistent since Day 1. These two guys have made such an impact on our team and really helped turn us around. Once we acquired them, weve been a different club. Their energy, how they play, they are very professional how they approach every game.

Giants spring training Day 41: Hwang wins award, hits game-winner

Giants spring training Day 41: Hwang wins award, hits game-winner

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jae-Gyun Hwang’s day started with an ovation from teammates who had selected Hwang as the Barney Nugent Award winner. It ended in style, too. 

Hwang’s walk-off single in the ninth gave the Giants an 8-7 win and raised his spring average to .308. Barring an injury or sudden change, Hwang will not make the team out of camp, but he’ll travel to San Francisco for the Bay Bridge Series next week and the Giants expect him back at AT&T Park soon.

“He can keep the award now,” Bochy joked after Hwang’s walk-off. “Good for him. Players love him, and the way he’s come out every day and the effort he puts in. He’s been inspiring with how hard he has gotten after it every day.”

The Barney Nugent Award is given to the player in his first big league camp “whose performance and dedication in Spring Training best exemplifies the San Francisco Giants spirit.” It is meaningful in large part because the voters are teammates, trainers and coaches. Hwang was called to the middle of the clubhouse by trainer Dave Groeschner on Saturday morning to accept the award. 

“With this being my first time coming to spring training to play baseball, I wanted to work hard and show that I belong here,” Hwang said through interpreter Mark Kim. “I think my teammates have noticed how hard I’ve worked for the team.”

The rest of the Giants have also noticed how easy Hwang has made the transition look. He said that, outside of learning a new strike zone, the adjustment hasn’t been a difficult one. He has four homers this spring, but doesn’t necessarily view that as a shining positive. Hwang said he wants to show more of an all-around game, especially on defense, and a stint in Triple-A Sacramento should provide that opportunity. 

If the rosters play out as expected, Hwang should see most of the time at third base in Triple-A. He can also play first, and he’s eager to show that he’s viable in left field. 

“I want to show I’m a versatile player,” he said. 

GAME RECAP: Chris Stratton was having a good spring, but he got knocked around by the Padres early … Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford both hit deep homers in their second game back from the WBC … Mark Melancon still has not allowed a run this spring … Hunter Pence's March slump got a bit deeper with an 0-for-3 ... Bryan Reynolds, last year’s top pick, entered as a pinch-runner and flew home from first on a Gorkys Hernandez double off the wall. 

BULLPEN BATTLES: In the front office’s perfect world, Josh Osich would be the one to take over for Will Smith, giving the team a hard-throwing lefty capable of neutralizing lefties and righties. It’s been an up-and-down spring for Osich, but he was filthy Saturday, striking out a pair in his lone inning. 

George Kontos looked even better in his inning, striking out the side. Kontos has allowed just five hits in 10 innings this spring, with 15 strikeouts. He seems forever stuck in that sixth-seventh range, but given his splits have been just about even over the years, maybe it’s time the Giants see what he can do in a more high-profile role. 

Cory Gearrin followed the previous two with a perfect eighth. Neil Ramirez struck out one and allowed one hit in the ninth. In 9 1/3 innings this spring, Ramirez has struck out 16 and allowed just five hits and two runs. He has a real shot to take someone’s job in the bullpen next week. 

ICYMI: The big news from this morning: Michael Morse will stick with the team and try to rehab/play his way back to the big leagues. And from the early afternoon, Johnny Cueto had a ton of fun with a 19-year-old he faced in a minor league game. 

NOTABLE: Bochy said that all of the players left in camp are slated to head home on the team flight Tuesday, but some guys have opt-outs on March 30, so moves are coming. This would seem a great sign for Aaron Hill, who is due a $100,000 retention bonus on Tuesday. Hill has slumped late in camp, but he’s still in position to make the team. Also noteworthy: Tyler Beede is scheduled to start Saturday’s game in Oakland. The Giants surely want to knock some MLB-stadium-nerves off before Beede heads down to Triple-A to wait for a call-up.

 

Cueto toys with young prospect in Giants minor league game

Cueto toys with young prospect in Giants minor league game

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There is no way to really ramp up the intensity when an All-Star pitcher makes an appearance in minor league camp, so Johnny Cueto instead found a way to have a bit more fun. 

While getting his work in against A-ball hitters, Cueto had a prolonged, smile-filled battle with 19-year-old Jasrado Chisholm, one of the Diamondbacks’ top prospects. The sequence between Cueto and the shortstop from the Bahamas: 

  • Cueto just missed with a two-strike inside fastball, so he went right back to the same spot, freezing Chisholm, who smiled and nodded at Cueto, who laughed back. 
  • The next time up, Chisholm took two vicious hacks, trying to crank a homer onto Hayden Road. He missed both breaking balls by about a foot. 
  •  Before the third pitch, Cueto yelled something at Chisholm and smiled. “I was telling him to keep his eye on the ball,” Cueto said. “Because every time he was swinging, he was taking his eye off the ball.”
  •  The advice worked. Chisholm hung in on the third pitch, lining a single to left-center. Cueto laughed and pointed his glove at the teenager. He promptly picked him off of first base. “He probably doesn’t know I have a quick move,” he said. “I was having fun with a kid who wanted to actually hit against me.”

Nobody has more fun than Cueto, even on a sun-baked minor league field. He capped his day by standing in for an at-bat of his own, and he stood and watched as a young Diamondback struck him out.

The work on the mound was just what was needed: 7 innings, 85 pitches, 10 strikeouts, 0 runs. Cueto, who missed the opening weeks of camp, is ready for the season.

“I feel strong,” he said. “I feel really good."