Zito stays focused amidst personal tragedy

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Zito stays focused amidst personal tragedy

Rael Enteen
CSNBayArea.com staff writer 

SAN FRANCISCO – Major League Baseball has a bereavement list for players dealing with a death in the family. Barry Zito wanted no part of it.

Three days after the death of his father Joseph, Zito took the mound at AT&T Park. He settled in after a shaky start to the outing to give the Giants seven strong innings in a game they would go on to win 2-1 in walk-off fashion.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants break through against Marlins in 11th] 

“I just try to minimize distractions when I take the mound, regardless of what it is,” Zito said. “Some things are a little heavier than others, but today I was able to go out there and stay focused and give the team a chance to win.”

The third of four games between the Giants and Miami Marlins didn’t end until Hector Sanchez’s shallow fly ball fell in front of Justin Ruggiano with the bases loaded in the 11th inning, long after Zito had departed. But Bruce Bochy knew to give credit where credit was due.

“It started with Zito,” Bochy said. “Considering what he’s had to go through, he had great focus out there. There’s nothing tougher than what he had to go through. To go out there with that focus, that’s impressive.”

While Zito was understandably hesitant to talk about the death of his father, his teammates picked him up.

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“I think we were all impressed,” said Hunter Pence, who prevented the go-ahead run from scoring in the top of the 11th with a shoestring catch. “Obviously baseball is extremely important, but there’s perspective. For him to come out and pitch the way he did and be there for us…we’re a family too playing as a team, and we’re all here for him. He went out and pitched outstanding.”

Buster Posey said that Zito, despite the personal tragedy, was his usual self heading into Saturday’s start.

“Barry is the ultimate professional, but obviously when you lose a family member, especially a parent, I can’t image what he was going through,” Posey said. “He had his routine and he stuck to it and he gave us a great performance.”

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It looked like Zito was headed for an early shower, not a great performance, after throwing 48 pitches to get through two innings. The Marlins only got to him for one run over that span, so Zito did his best to limit the damage, but a quality start did not appear likely early on.

Bochy said that Zito has proven over the course of his tenure with the Giants that he’s capable of bouncing back from early struggles, which has led to a longer leash.

“He’s probably got somewhat of a high pitch count because he’s using all his pitches and he doesn’t give in, which is a great quality,” Bochy said. “He’s also a guy that can handle it and he has shown that.”

The sentimental aspect of Zito’s outing overshadows the fact that the Giants were on the verge of losing three straight to baseball’s worst team. A loss would’ve put the Giants at .500 for the first time since April 2, the second day of the season, and on the verge of a sweep at home. Instead, the Giants improved to 24-14 at AT&T Park with their eighth walk-off win.

Gregor Blanco, leading off in Angel Pagan’s absence, reached base four times. His double to Triple’s Alley in the fifth inning bizarrely bounced high enough for a fan in the arcade seats to interfere. Zito, on first after a failed safety squeeze, was running on contact and umpires determined he would’ve scored from first had the ball stayed in play, knotting the game at a run apiece.

Zito left with the 1-1 tie in tact and turned it over to an overworked bullpen. But Bochy’s relievers combined for four scoreless innings, including 1.2 each from Sergio Romo and Sandy Rosario.

Rosario would’ve been in line for the loss if not for Pence’s gem in right. With two on and two out, Pence’s former teammate in Philadelphia Placido Polanco sent a slicing line drive the other way that found leather just before it would’ve hit grass.

“You know what’s on the line there,” Pence said. “I’m playing Polanco a little shallow, a little over. He’s really good at hitting those soft liners that way; he’s made a living off of it for a long, long time. Fortunately I was able to get there.”

Pence’s catch set the stage for a dramatic bottom half of the 11th that started when Blanco reached on an infield single.

“[Blanco] brings so much energy to the club,” Bochy said. “That’s what you love about him. He goes all out every play.”

After Marco Scutaro sacrificed Blanco to second, Posey followed with his own infield single on a close play, waving his arms wildly to beat first base umpire Mark Wegner to the call.

“They wanted it bad,” Bochy said. “You saw them going down the line in the last inning. They were doing all they can to beat those balls out. It’s good for these guys because they’re fighting.”

The hustle was rewarded after the Marlins intentionally walked Pence to load the bases for Sanchez, who sent the second pitch he saw from reliever Ryan Webb to shallow left. Unlike Pence, who appeared to put his legs into high gear on his game-saving catch, Ruggiano hesitated and didn’t even attempt a dive, allowing Blanco to trot home from third for the win.

The Giants have now gone 84 innings since their last home run, a leadoff shot by Blanco in Atlanta on June 14, but Bochy isn’t concerned.

“We’re a team that tries to keep the line moving and execute like we did the last inning,” Bochy said. “Home runs are nice, but we know it’s not our strength. They’ll come. We’re in a little rut right now, but these things seem to be streaky. Right now we’re just not hitting home runs, but you’ll see them come.”

Giants spring training Day 42: Blach still in the fifth starter mix

Giants spring training Day 42: Blach still in the fifth starter mix

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ty Blach is the young one in the race to be the fifth starter, but on Sunday he sounded like a veteran. Asked if he has gotten a hint one way or the other about his opening day role, Blach smiled.

“I’m just taking it day-by-day and trying to get better,” Blach said. “I’m enjoying the process and having fun.”

Smooth. 

Those days are adding up to a nice spring for Blach, the left-hander trying to unseat Matt Cain. While Bruce Bochy didn’t shed any additional light on the current lean, team officials hinted Sunday that this is not as open-and-shut as it seems. Matt Cain, who will start Tuesday, looked like a lock to be the fifth starter a week ago, but the Giants are considering all options because they have an off day during the first week and two more shortly thereafter. 

“We’ve had discussions every day,” Bochy said. “We’ve got some tough calls.”

The Giants are expected to announce their official rotation when they return home for the Bay Bridge Series. Whether he’s starting, long-relieving, or pitching in a completely new role, Blach has certainly done all he can to make sure he’s in the big leagues on April 2. He gave up two runs over six innings Sunday, walking one and striking out one while giving up seven hits. Blach has allowed 10 runs in 20 1/3 innings this spring, but four of those came when he was ambushed coming out of the bullpen one day.

“Wherever I’ll be, I know I’ll be in a good spot,” Blach said. “I’m just looking forward to getting the season rolling.

After pitching out of the bullpen most of the spring, Blach got his pitch count up to 85 on Sunday. 

“We’ve gotten him stretched out,” Bochy said. “That’s a solid, solid job. We’ve got guys stretched out where you want them. We’ve got some flexibility. We’ll see as we get close here which way we’ll go.”

POSITION BATTLES: The Giants will carry a backup for Denard Span, and for about a month it looked like Gorkys Hernandez would be that guy. But Hernandez has slumped so badly this spring that he went over the minor league facility Sunday to get a ton of extra at-bats, and Justin Ruggiano has emerged, reaching base in nine of his last 16 plate appearances. The plan a few days back was for Ruggiano to go to Sacramento and get 50 or so at-bats to see where he’s at, but this is another race that could change in the coming week. 

Cory Gearrin has done his part to hold off any charging relievers, throwing two sharp innings while going back-to-back for the first time this spring. 

FAMILIAR FACES: A rough day for a couple of longtime Giants. Ehire Adrianza and Gregor Blanco both have oblique injuries, hurting their odds of breaking with the Twins and Diamondbacks, respectively. Elsewhere, David Hernandez showed that he made a smart decision asking for his release. He was signed by the Braves. 

AROUND CAMP: Hunter Pence really does do all he can to make every single teammate feel welcome in the clubhouse. He spent some time with young right-hander Roberto Gomez on Sunday morning, learning a few Spanish phrases. When the players went out to warm up, Pence threw with Jae-Gyun Hwang. These are small gestures, but for the new guys, they matter. 

BARRY’S BACK: We all knew Barry Bonds would step into the cage at some point, and on a quiet Sunday morning, there he was. Bonds, 52, took about five or six easy hacks before crushing one out to deep right. He’s still got it. The other day, reporters asked Bonds if he could suit up in the WBC if asked. He said he can absolutely still hit, but he would need to DH and he would need a day or two off before games. Being a big league hitter is not easy, even if he always made it look that way.

 

Bonds dusts off swing, cracks home run during BP in Giants' camp

Bonds dusts off swing, cracks home run during BP in Giants' camp

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants knew Barry Bonds would step back into the box at some point. It happened Sunday, with Bonds taking a few cracks at BP pitches from Gary Davenport.

Bonds warmed up with a couple of lighter swings and then blasted a homer to deep right. That was enough, as the 52-year-old walked away with a big smile on his face. 

Bonds is in camp as a special instructor, and he still picks his spots to show off his legendary swing. When he was the Marlins' hitting coach last season, he beat slugger Giancarlo Stanton in an impromptu home run derby.