Urban: Zito shows Giants his hammer is strong

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Urban: Zito shows Giants his hammer is strong

June 28, 2011

URBAN ARCHIVE
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Mychael Urban
CSNBayArea.com

All the talk about reconnecting with the game as it used to be, of re-learning to love it, of absorbing a familiar sense of kinship with the hard-working kids in the minors leagues, of focusing on the process and not results?Meaningless. Empty talk -- especially to fans who are very much into those pesky results. It's pretty simple: Throw a hammer like Thor and you're good.That's what Barry Zito did Tuesday at Wrigley Field, and that's why he looked like the Zito that the Giants were hoping they'd get when they paid him more money than mighty Thor himself made even in his best seasons with the Thunder.
RECAP: Zito returns triumphant; Giants extend win streak
Prior to that, of course, Zito did what Zito often does. Depending on how you feel about the man in general, you can characterize what he did as philosophizing, rhapsodizing, rationalizing or, let's face it, eulogizing.
In short, lots of talk about baseball being fun again, only in deeper-sounding sentences.But you know what's really fun? Locking up a big-league hitter with a curveball that starts somewhere in the upper deck and ends up nestled softly in the catcher's glove, then watching the guy's face contort in a non-verbal expression of "What in the name of all things flecked with gold and accompanied by a smoking-hot harp soloist was that?"Zito did plenty of that Tuesday, and when he's doing that, he's making his 85- to 88-mph fastball look, as Jason Giambi once said, "more like 99 or 100."The bender Zito was featuring while holding the Cubs to four hits and two walks over seven innings was the best he's thrown in the bigs in years.GIANTS INSIDER GALLERY: Zito helps Giants sweep DH
So what happened? What brought back Zito's curveball from the land in which hitters spit on it to the land in which they respect, fear and flail at it?Well, improved fastball command helps prevent the former. Pop a heater into the strike zone early, at any speed, and you're in control of the at-bat; the secondary pitches become a factor. Fall behind with the fastball, especially if it's not above-average, and the hitter can wait out those secondary pitches in search of something straight and somewhat slow. That's a recipe for disaster, and Zito has cooked up plenty of those as a Giant. But thanks to some minor mechanical tweaks, his fastball command improved considerably during his time in the minors. The major change in Zito, however, has been the ditching of his slider. He added the pitch after he won the American League Cy Young in 2002, and that speaks to his personality. He's of the mind that if you aren't trying to get better -- and that's what adding the slider was to him -- you're getting worse.An argument could be made that there isn't much to improve after going 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA, but hey, that's how the guy thinks. Can't fault a guy's brain for working a certain way.He's no dummy, though, and he's never duplicated the Cy Young success since adding the slider. It's nearly impossible to throw a slider from a tradition over-the-top arm slot; by nature the pitch has to be released from something of an angle to, well, slide.Yet Zito's curveball, to achieve maximum effectiveness, has to be delivered from a traditional over-the-top arm slot. At it's best, it's a classic noon-to-six bender, and he spent his life perfecting it -- while throwing the other two pitches that helped him win the Cy, a fastball and changeup, from the exact same arm slot.So he canned the slider. Arm slot locked. And though it's taken a while to get the feel for that hammer of Thor, it's there now -- and you saw it Tuesday.

Giants get blanked by Braves, now have lowest-scoring team in majors

Giants get blanked by Braves, now have lowest-scoring team in majors

SAN FRANCISCO — Over in Cleveland earlier Friday, Brandon Moss hit a three-run homer for the visiting team and five other players chipped in a pair of hits. The Royals had six runs, which meant that when Jim Johnson closed the Giants out a few hours later, what has seemed true all season became officially true. The Giants have the lowest-scoring lineup in the majors.

At 3.32 runs per game, they have dipped below the equally-disappointing Royals (3.38). They are capable at the moment of making any pitching staff look dominant. A 2-0 shutout was the first of the year for the Braves, who previously had just two games this season where they allowed fewer than two runs. 

“Six runs in (the last) four games … I thought we would come home and get some rips in tonight, but it didn’t happen,” Bruce Bochy said. 

The manager’s frustration showed late in this one. After the only rally of the game — a two-run single by opposing pitcher Jaime Garcia — Bochy took his cap off and rubbed his forehead. He dipped his head and briefly stood as if he was going to fall asleep on the rail. The bats were equally still. 

The Giants had just four hits, all of them singles against Garcia, who is a nice pitcher but hardly one of the league’s best. One was an infield single by Eduardo Nuñez, another a single through Garcia’s five-hole, and a third a generous ruling by the official scorekeeper. 

“It comes down to, you’ve got to get some hits and create opportunities, and we’re not doing it very often,” Bochy said. “It’s just a matter of guys getting somewhat hot. We did, we had some success, and we won some games. The thing you like to see is some good cuts and I didn’t think we got enough of those tonight.”

That run, which spanned the last homestand and small parts of two road trips, has come to a screeching halt. The Giants have lost five of six. It seems silly to scoreboard-watch in May, especially when a team is playing like this, but it’s worth noting that the teams the Giants eventually need to catch keep winning. They fell 12 games back of the Rockies and 11 back of the streaking Diamondbacks. They are 9 1/2 back of the Dodgers, who might be the best team in the whole league. 

Matt Cain did his part to allow the Giants to keep pace. He got beat just once in seven sharp innings. The Giants intentionally walked Dansby Swanson to get to Garcia, who bounced a single into left. Brandon Belt had a play at the plate, but his throw was short and hit the runner. A second run scored. 

“That’s tough,” Cain said. “(Garcia) was throwing the ball really good and that’s what it comes down to, you’re looking for that one hit and he did it. He’s a good hitter. We’ve seen it in St. Louis. But it definitely is tough when the pitcher does that … it just stinks on my part to give up a hit to the opposing pitcher.”

Lowrie's big hit sparks A's, gets road trip started right

Lowrie's big hit sparks A's, gets road trip started right

NEW YORK — Jed Lowrie is the counterpoint to the A’s home run-crazed offensive attack.

Sure, the A’s switch-hitting second baseman can muscle up and clear the fence. But Lowrie’s approach is more about spraying base hits all around and using the whole field. He was at it again in Friday’s 4-1 A’s victory over the Yankees, going 3-for-4 and delivering an RBI single that snapped a scoreless tie in the eighth.

“I always have to carry his glove out to second for him because he’s always on base,” shortstop Adam Rosales said. “He looks really good at the plate right now, and he’s kind of just putting us on his back. It’s contagious to see a guy like that doing so well.”

Lowrie bumped his average up to .310 with Friday’s game. Until he grounded out in the sixth, he’d notched hits in seven consecutive at-bats dating back to Tuesday night. That streak fell one shy of the A’s record for most consecutive hits. Three players share the record at eight — Josh Reddick (in 2016), Dave Magadan (1997) and Brent Gates (1994).

“It’s all about the work,” said Lowrie, whose 15 doubles are tied for third in the AL. “Everything comes together when you’re seeing it well. I’m seeing it well but the approach hasn’t changed.”

With two runners aboard and two out in the eighth, Lowrie punched an RBI single to right off Tyler Clippard for the game’s first run. It was the breakthrough the A’s needed after they’d struck out 13 times in seven innings against Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka. Khris Davis followed Lowrie’s hit by beating out an infield single to score another run. Then Stephen Vogt added a two-run homer in top of the ninth to make it 4-0, and that provided some cushion as closer Santiago Casilla gave up a run and made things tenser than they should have been in the bottom half.

Davis, the most fearsome hitter in Oakland’s lineup, is thrilled to have a productive Lowrie batting in front of him as the No. 3 man.

“Somebody’s gotta hit .300,” Davis said. “All year he’s been our most consistent hitter and best hitter. I hope he keeps going.”

The A’s have won four in a row at Yankee Stadium dating back to last year. It’s their longest winning streak in the Bronx since a four-gamer at the old stadium in 2006. And it was a good way to begin a seven-game road trip for the A’s, who came in with the league’s worst road record at 6-15.

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Rosales had puffiness under his right eye and said he was anticipating a shiner after his hard head-first dive into third base didn’t go as planned in the eighth. He scraped up his face pretty good after going first to third on an errant pickoff throw and taking a hard dive into third, only to find the dirt wasn’t giving.

After addressing reporters, Rosales said he was on his way to find an ice pack.