Urban: Zito's head, command where Giants need


Urban: Zito's head, command where Giants need

June 16, 2011


Follow @MUrbanCSN
Mychael Urban

FRESNO -- The final line was spoiled by the second-to-last batter he faced, one swing turning what would have been yet another quality rehab start into something that, by the numbers, looks less than impressive.Facing Triple-A hitters for the first time after twice toying with Single-A kids while working his way back to the big leagues (and from a foot injury), Giants left-hander Barry Zito on Thursday allowed four runs on five hits and two walks while striking out six over six innings for the host Fresno Grizzlies, who beat the Mariners' Tacoma affiliate by a cozy 8-4 margin.Zito got the win, and he got an appropriately loud ovation from the home fans as he walked off the mound after the top of the sixth inning. But if weren't at Chukchansi Park to see the outing as a whole, chances are you look at the line and scoff.There's a sizable contingent of Giants fans for whom anything less than sheer dominance goes down as nothing less than another Zito failure, and that Zito actually did dominate until Mike Wilson slammed a hide-the-children homer to left field with two out in the sixth surely means next to nothing to that contingent.URBAN: Giants' Zito and Ford rehab play-by-play
Typical Zito, the haters will say. Big deal, he won in the minors. He's still no more than a five-inning pitcher, even in the minors. Keep him there forever.The Giants can't keep him there forever, of course. The maximum number of days a player can spend on a rehab assignment is 30 days, after which the parent club has to make some sort of roster move regarding said player. Thursday was day 11, and the fact of the matter -- given his untradeable contract, which comes with complications that makes more time in the minors via the activate-and-option route all but impossible, and the insanity that would be eating the roughly 50 million still owed Zito via an outright release -- is that the only move the Giants can be reasonably expected to make with their star-crossed southpaw, whether it's after milking those final 19 days or prior to that, is to add him back to the active big-league roster.And if the current members of the big-league pitching staff continue to do what they've been doing of late, in the rotation and in the bullpen, whatever move they make to create space for Zito will make the haters hate even more.Zito, thoughtful and bright and reflective veteran that he is, knows this as well as anyone. He knows how well everyone is throwing and agreed that none of them deserve to be bumped. And he long ago accepted the reality that while there is a segment of the Giants fan base that respects his professionalism and pulls for him at all times, there's a far larger segment to whom he is and always will be Public Baseball Enemy No. 1.Yet he also long ago decided to stop sweating what he can't control."I'm just focusing on the day-to-day," he told CSNBayArea.com in the otherwise empty deserted Grizzlies clubhouse after leaving Thursday's game. "I'm just focusing on pitching and doing the best I can do out there on the mound."That's all he can do. That's the only thing he can control.Well, it's not the only thing he can control. Since his rehab assignment started, he's shown an ability to control his pitches better than he's been able to since his sizzling start to the 2010 championship season, and that's no small development. Zito has never been a power pitcher and never will be. He won the 2002 AL Cy Young because he had dirty stuff that he threw for strikes. He still has dirty stuff, and when he's throwing his fastball, curveball and changeup -- he's nixed the problematic slider, which he didn't throw in 2002, from his repertoire -- for strikes he puts together Cy-reminiscent outings such as the ones he strung together in the first month and a half of last year.The haters have conveniently forgotten about those outings, but Zito plans to freshen their memories."I'm enjoying pitching more than I have in a long time," he said Thursday. "This whole experience, being away from the big-league team, getting back to a place where it's just about going out and throwing a baseball -- without all the other things that we, as professional athletes, sometimes allow to get in our way or get us out of a comfort zone. I'm super excited about what this whole experience has meant for me."As for whether he'll get a shot at showing what it's meant in the Majors in a week or two or in 19 days, in the bullpen or the rotation, he frankly isn't giving it much thought."I'm seriously just pumped to pitch again, wherever it is," he said. "Bullpen, Fresno, San Fran, rotation. I'll do whatever they want. It's out of my hands."Having a ball in his hands is all that matters.

A's spring training Day 10: Canha doubles off Gray in intrasquad game

A's spring training Day 10: Canha doubles off Gray in intrasquad game

MESA, Ariz. — The A’s had four lineups sketched out for two intrasquad games taking place simultaneously Thursday.

You couldn’t help but notice that one of the lineups in particular was packed with Oakland’s regulars, and there were plenty of highlights delivered by notable names during the two-inning game at the A’s minor league facility.

Sonny Gray gave up a run on Mark Canha’s RBI double to right-center in his inning of work but also struck out Ryon Healy with a good breaking ball. Gray’s stuff earned solid reviews from manager Bob Melvin.

Overall, Melvin was pleasantly surprised with some of the hard contact generated by his hitters, who had seen just two days of live batting practice prior to Thursday.

“Canha hits a pitch down that’s moving all over the place to right-center,” Melvin said.

In the same game, Rajai Davis hit a leadoff triple to center off Kendall Graveman and came home on Stephen Vogt’s single. Graveman got Matt Joyce looking on a fastball but gave up some hard contact in a brief 15-pitch outing. He’ll start Sunday’s game against the Angels, so Thursday’s outing acted like a between-start bullpen session.

In the other game, Sean Manaea got his three outs so quickly that they had to extend the inning a bit for him to get his work in. That game was highlighted by a long home run from infield prospect Yairo Munoz off Daniel Coulombe.

Melvin said bench coach Mark Kotsay handled duties of sketching out the rosters for the two intrasquad games, and while it will be interesting to see how Melvin writes out the lineup for Saturday’s exhibition opener against the Chicago Cubs, keep in mind that the early Cactus League games will only feature a handful of regulars in each of them.

PROSPECT WATCH: Shortstop Franklin Barreto, the A’s top-rated prospect, will also see some time at second base this spring but not in the outfield, Melvin said. Barreto has played some center field in winter ball, but general manager David Forst, during an offseason interview with CSN California, said the team envisions Barreto as an infielder. The A’s have Marcus Semien entrenched at shortstop right now, and there’s been some feeling among scouts that Barreto — whose bat is his biggest strength — is better suited for second base long-term anyway. Another highly touted prospect, Richie Martin, is a possible shortstop of the future as well.

NOTEWORTHY: The A’s have expressed optimism that reliever Santiago Casilla will arrive in camp shortly after being delayed by the visa process in the Dominican Republic. But Casilla remains day-to-day, with Melvin not giving a timetable for his arrival.

“We were going to slow-play him this spring anyway. He’ll throw some bullpens and probably throw to some hitters before we get him in a game,” Melvin said. “At this point in time I’m still not that concerned. I’ll start to be a little bit if we get into games (and he’s not in camp), but I still think we’re on a good schedule with him.”

ODDS AND ENDS: Oscar-nominated actor Mahershala Ali, an Oakland native who threw out the first pitch at an A’s game last season, arranged for a screening of his movie “Moonlight” on Thursday night for A’s players at a Scottsdale theatre. Ali is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the movie, which is also up for Best Picture.

“It’s nice of him to think of that and want to set that up,” reliever John Axford said. “I’ve already seen it and I’ll be there again.”

Axford, a movie fanatic and Film & Television major in college, has created a social media buzz in recent years by doing incredibly well predicting the Oscar winners. He has yet to reveal all of his picks for Sunday’s show, but he gives rave reviews to “Moonlight.”

Nuggets' Malone plays what if game with Kings, takes jab at ownership

Nuggets' Malone plays what if game with Kings, takes jab at ownership

SACRAMENTO -- It seems like yesterday that Michael Malone was leading a Sacramento Kings team featuring DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay into battle every night. Less than three years later, only Gay remains with the franchise and he’s out for the season with a torn left Achilles. 

Thomas left in a lopsided trade that yielded Sacramento Alex Oriakhi and a trade exception during the summer of 2014. Malone was let go with an 11-13 record 24 games into the 2014-15 campaign after Cousins went down with a bout of viral meningitis. Cousins is now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans following a blockbuster trade on Sunday.

“I always go back and think - ‘what could have happened if myself, DeMarcus, Isaiah, a healthy Rudy, if we were all together?,’” Malone told a small group of reporters before shootaround on Thursday. “We’ll never know, but I like to think that a lot of positive things would have happened, because I felt like we had something good going here. And it wasn’t to be.”

Malone’s reputation as a defense-minded coach played into his firing. At the time, owner Vivek Ranadivé used musical metaphors to describe what he was looking for in his next head coach.

“We had a Sousa marching band, which was needed when there was chaos, but now we need to shift to a jazz band, where people can be individually showcased and improvised,” Ranadivé said. “What we need is a jazz director.”

Malone is back in Sacramento Thursday night as the head coach of the Denver Nuggets and he’s looking for his first win against his former club in his fifth opportunity. He also heads a group that leads the Kings by a game and a half in the standings and boasts the NBA’s fourth highest scoring average at 110.6 points per game. 

“I can’t remember all the things that were said when I was fired, because there was so much being said,” Malone stated. “But I know one of the things that was being said was ‘style of play.’ There were people that were not in my corner that used that as a way to get me fired. Now we’re one of the highest scoring teams in NBA.”

“I look at you people, you were wrong,” a smiling Malone added while looking directly into a news camera. 

Known for his ability to connect to Cousins, Malone was as shocked as anyone to hear that the Kings traded the talented 26-year-old. The two have remained close, despite no longer working together.

“That was definitely a surprise over All-Star break,” Malone said. “Surprise for me, even a bigger surprise for him from what I understand.”

Malone has very little time to worry about his former player. He has to prepare his Nuggets team for a new-look Kings roster that has played a gritty, hard-nosed style all season long. With 26 games remaining, his team sits in the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoff chase and they face a team that is backed into a cormer.

“They have a chip on their shoulder,” Malone said. “You make a big trade like that and I’m sure the players in that locker room are going to say, ‘Everybody’s writing us off because we don’t have DeMarcus.’ They’re going to come out and try and prove everybody wrong. They beat Boston, a very good team, without DeMarcus, and I’m sure that’s the model they’re going to try to use moving forward.”

A straight shooter through and through, Malone spoke on a variety of topics before heading out to the floor to prep his team for the 7:30 start at Golden 1 Center. 

“I just want to get a win, period,” Malone said. “The grudge is gone, this is part of the business. I knew the rules when I signed up, I really did.”

Malone understood the reality of taking over a fledgling franchise under new ownership and management when he took the Kings job. Sacramento gave him his first head coaching opportunity in the league, which he is grateful for, but his departure was anything but clean. The grudge might be gone, but those who covered Malone during his time with the Kings know full-well that playing this franchise will always be personal.