Urban: Zito's head, command where Giants need


Urban: Zito's head, command where Giants need

June 16, 2011


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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.

Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?


Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?

CHICAGO — John Lackey's night started with a leadoff homer. Ty Blach's night started with a 13-pitch battle. Neither one is a positive for a pitcher, but Blach didn't view it that way. He actually appreciated Ben Zobrist stretching him out.

"It's good to have a battle like that and get you locked in," Blach said. "It gets you focused and you'll be like, I can execute and get guys out. It's good. It's a good battle."

There, in a nutshell, is so much of what Bruce Bochy loves about his young left-hander. The Giants have found Blach's arm and resolve to be remarkably resilient. He wasn't bothered when they moved him to the bullpen and he didn't get too high when they moved him back to the rotation. He is the same after seven shutout innings or three poor ones. Bochy smiled when asked about the Zobrist at-bat, which ended in a strikeout looking. 

"How 'bout that?" the manager said. "He won that at-bat. It seems like the advantage goes to the hitter, seeing all those pitches. He kept his focus and got a called strikeout and here he is pitching in the eighth inning."

After needing 13 pitches for one out, Blach got the next 23 on 81 pitches. Bochy thought Blach tired a bit in the eighth, but the deep effort allowed Bochy to mix and match in the bullpen, and ultimately he found the right mix. Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon closed it out and got Blach his second win.

--- From last night, Joe Panik's huge night helped give Blach an early lead. With the help of Ron Wotus and his shift charts, he also put on a show defensively.

--- We're trying something new right after the final pitch: Here are five quick takeaways from the 6-4 win.

--- The options game sent Kelby Tomlinson back to Triple-A on Wednesday when the Giants activated Melancon, but his latest stint in Sacramento comes with a twist. Tomlinson started his third consecutive game in center field on Monday. The Giants are getting a bit more serious about their longtime plan to make Tomlinson a super-utility player. 

“Tommy is a valuable guy in the majors and if we can give him some experience in the outfield, it gives you more flexibility and versatility,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

This is not Tomlinson’s first foray into the outfield. He did work there in the offseason after the 2015 season and he has played 25 big league innings in left field the last two seasons. This is Tomlinson’s first real experience with center field, and while in the past he has said that the transition isn’t as easy as some might think, Bochy is confident Tomlinson can figure it out. He certainly has the speed to be a semi-regular in the outfield, and the Giants aren’t exactly brimming with quality center field options behind Denard Span, who is dealing with his second injury of the season. 

“It’s a little different now,” Bochy said when asked about Tomlinson’s past experiences in the outfield. “He’s in Sacramento doing it, and knowing there’s a possibility we could need help in the outfield.”

If the switch doesn’t come in handy this season, it could in 2018. Bochy compared Tomlinson’s infield-outfield ability to Eduardo Nuñez, who has found regular playing time in left but is a free agent after the year. 

--- Hunter Pence did some light running in the outfield before Monday’s game. Bochy said Pence is still about a week away from being an option.

--- Bochy has said it a few times now when asked about the standings, so it’s officially a new motto for a team that got off to a brutal start: “We’ve put ourselves in a great situation for a great story.”

--- They're starting to get a little grumpy around here with their team hovering around .500. Perhaps the Cubs thought they could fool a few on the way out of Wrigley.

Agony still present, Kerr uncertain if he can coach Warriors in NBA Finals

Agony still present, Kerr uncertain if he can coach Warriors in NBA Finals

SAN ANTONIO -- Those following the Warriors and their effort to rage through the playoffs should put away those thoughts and hopes that Steve Kerr will return to full-time coaching later this week or sometime before the NBA Finals.

Forget about it, unless you know something he doesn’t.

And if you do, he wants to hear what you have to say.

Don’t get it wrong: Kerr wants to coach, would love to coach. That’s why, even as he feels like hell, he’s hanging around the team like a languid groupie. He wants to be with the Warriors in the heat of battle because they’re his team, within the culture he instilled, and he would like nothing more to get another chance to win The Finals.

But because the procedure he underwent more than two weeks ago at Duke Spine Center did not deliver the relief he’d hoped for, Kerr knows he’s not up to the task and, therefore, continues to operate as sort of a associate head coach to acting head coach Mike Brown.

“Mike is doing great,” Kerr told NBCSportsBayArea.com late Monday night, after the Warriors clinched a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals with a 129-115 Game 4 win over the Spurs. “He’s such a wonderful human being. He’s so unselfish and team-oriented. I’m proud of him and the job he’s doing, along with the rest of the staff. I wish I could be out there with them. And maybe I will. I don’t know. We’ll see.

“He’s a great partner. And we’re in this together, obviously, but he’s got to make decisions with the staff without me. He’s done a great job of navigating the games. We’re undefeated, so he’s doing something right.”

Kerr can only help from the perimeter. The demands of the job require the coach be able to function at near-peak levels, particularly before and during a game, and he simply can’t. He knows there will be times, all too often, when the discomfort becomes unbearable to such a degree he hardly can think straight.

The agony is visible. The players see it. The staff sees it. Brown sees it, feels it and hears it. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is one of Kerr’s best friends -- as well as a good friend of Brown -- was able to see it during the Western Conference Finals.

“I've spoken with Steve and Mike; we're friends,” Popovich said two hours before Game 4. “We've known each other a long time. But as far as Steve's concerned, it's just a crap situation.

“You know, he's done a phenomenal job. And when you're going through that pain every day and that frustration of not being able to do what you want to do, it's hard to enjoy it at the fullest level. So I feel badly for him all the time but hopeful that stuff will get figured out.”

Nobody wants that more than Kerr, who has tried nearly everything any respectable specialist has recommended. So far, there has been no miracle.

So Kerr forges ahead, getting his Warriors fix by being around the group. By meeting with coaches and players. By meeting with general manager Bob Myers. Kerr was with the Warriors throughout their stay in San Antonio. He was at practices and shootarounds, sometimes on the floor and sometimes sitting in the stands observing from afar.

“I need to be around the guys,” he said. “I don’t want to miss this. Just being in the locker room, being able to talk to the guys means a lot to me. I’m thrilled for them. It’s fun to see how happy they are with three straight trips to The Finals. It’s pretty incredible.”

Kerr has been with the team for at least a few hours every day since May 10, less than a week after his procedure at Duke.

Kerr’s presence has been invaluable, both physically and psychologically, according to staff and players.

“Coach just empowers everybody,” Kevin Durant said. “His message is still the same. Even when he wasn't there in the Utah series, you could still feel his presence. That's what great leaders do.”

Participation, making himself feel useful, is one form of therapy that gives Kerr a semi-satisfying break from the misery.

“He watches film, and he watches the game,” Brown said. “So he gives his perspective from where he is. He gives insight on what we should be doing going forward, what he felt we could have done better, what we did that was good. So he just gives his input, mainly. He addresses the team every once in a while. He doesn't always do that, but he'll address the team from time to time.”

There was some belief that Kerr could return to full-time coaching within a week or so after the procedure, for which he declined to provide details. Warriors CEO Joe Lacob expressed hope Kerr might return “sooner rather than later.” Had it been as successful as Kerr and the doctors hoped, he would have.

That was May 5. Kerr announced he was stepping aside on April 23. As of Wednesday, he was been on leave for a full month.

Asked if he plans to travel during the NBA Finals, Kerr said he hopes so: “It’s like a month away,” he said, exaggerating the nine-day layoff.

He’d rather say with certainty that, yes, he will be accompanying the team because, after all, he’s the head coach.

And he will say that, the moment his body tells him it’s OK to do so.