Zito and his 'little fastball that could'

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Zito and his 'little fastball that could'

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SAINT LOUIS -- Of all the things that made Barry Zitos best night ever as a Giant, the one thing nobody would ever have imagined the fastball was the best.

Understand first, though, that Zito has a fastball that at its best is mostly a cutter with attitude. In fact, when Bruce Bochy was asked in his office about how prominently Zitos fastball figured in the Giants 5-0 shutout win in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, Brian Sabean and several of the teams scouts broke into laughter.

It is the kind of question that ought to draw that very reaction. And yet . . .

Truthfully, I usually go by the scoreboard gun, and so if its 82 or 83, its usually a cutter, pitching coach Dave Righetti said. But 84, 85, thats the fastball. So today, the plan was sort of to use the fastball more often, try to spot it, run it in to more of their right-handed hitters. We just sort of got away from his using his changeup so much, and having him go with more of the fastball, cutter and curveball. And today, he was doubling and tripling up on the fastball, and it worked.

In other words, the pitch that people mock the most ended up being Zitos best friend in the biggest game of his Giant career. Of course.

But there was something else. He didnt geek himself up for this start as he had in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. That start was Zito at his jumpy worst, so he downshifted into second. Which looks a lot like first to the layman.

In Cincinnati, he was running out to the mound, going a little too fast with everything, Righetti said. Today, he just had a different pace to everything he did. He walked out to the mound and walked back, he took everything at a slower pace and just stayed within himself. I think that helped him to keep from getting too amped up, and stay with the plan.

A plan that Zito and Righetti discussed, and catcher Buster Posey enforced, through seven and two-thirds innings of eye-opening work.

I was trying to be too fine, nitpicking, trying to hit corners, Zito said of the Cincinnati debacle that probably pushed his start back from Game 4 to Game 5. Today I wanted to try and put more pressure on the hitters to put the ball in play.

My fastball is set up by my off-speed stuff, so if I can command the fastball to both sides of the plate, and throw most of my off-speed pitches for strikes, I can get them to miss the barrel.

This is his standard postgame analysis, and he uses it with a different verb tense depending on how well he performed. Friday, he was pretty well future perfect.

Last time, we thought he wasnt aggressive enough using the fastball, manager Bruce Bochy said. This time . . .

And he leaned back in his chair, thinking of how much Zito had impressed him in 2010 at the low ebb of his career, and how he has refrained from the multi-millionaires bitching prerogative when not granted his due deference. Of all the moments Bochy has enjoyed in his time in San Francisco, this start will linger among the longest because he appreciates that Zitos 2010 was something he could use with Tim Lincecum this year, and may be able to use if needed on Madison Bumgarner as well.

I didnt think about taking him out after six or seven, he said. He was just throwing the ball too well. I didnt want to go get him when I finally did, but hed gone far enough. I cant say enough about what hes been through, how he handled it, and tonight, how he got us through.

And we havent even covered his RBI bunt single in the pivotal fourth inning, his first bunt hit as a pro.

But well leave that to Comrade Baggarly, as well as the Twitter hashtag fetish that introduced his day to the nation.

I tried Twitter a couple of years ago, he smiled when told how he had touched the Internetii. It was a pretty devastating experience for me.

So he quit, a sensible choice for a man whose years of well-compensated forbearance have finally been rewarded. And if all goes well in Games 6 and 7, will almost certainly be rewarded again with the most improbable setting yet.

With him starting Game 1 of the World Series at home against Justin Verlander. Him and the little fastball that could . . . after all these years.

A's spring training Day 9: Alcantara trying to add new wrinkle

A's spring training Day 9: Alcantara trying to add new wrinkle

MESA, Ariz. — Right-hander Raul Alcantara, who could factor in as a starting or long relief option for the A’s, is experimenting with a split-finger fastball this spring.

Alcantara, who made five late-season starts last season in his first big league call-up, threw the pitch for the first time to hitters Tuesday, so he’s still in the infant stages with it. The A’s would like Alcantara to develop a solid third pitch to go with his fastball and changeup, though he does dabble with a curve and cutter too.

“In general, we’re looking for a ball that’s gonna dive, something where the bottom’s gonna fall out,” Oakland bullpen coach Scott Emerson said.

Alcantara, 24, faces crowded competition for the No. 5 starter spot with Jesse Hahn, Andrew Triggs and Paul Blackburn among those also going for it. Claiming the last spot in a seven-man bullpen is a possibility, though the A’s could surely utilize a second left-hander to go along with Sean Doolittle.

Making Alcantara’s case more interesting is that he’s out of minor league options, meaning he would need to make it through waivers unclaimed before the A’s could send him down.

Alcantara throws a hard changeup that clocked 86-87 miles per hour last season. Ideally, Emerson said his splitter would settle in the low 80’s.

Speaking through interpreter Juan Dorado, Alcantara said he’s gradually getting a feel for the new pitch.

“Obviously it’s a little more difficult on the hitters to know that there’s a different pitch,” he said. “They’re used to me throwing a fastball, a cutter and a change, and now implementing a split would just help me out to show them something different.”

CAMP BATTLE: Lefty Ross Detwiler, who re-signed with Oakland in the winter on a minor league deal, offers depth as a potential swing man who can start or relieve. Detwiler went 2-4 with a 6.14 ERA in nine games (seven starts) last season for the A’s. Those numbers look ugly in a short sample size, but Melvin values the veteran beyond what the stats show.

“I think he liked being here and we wanted him back.”

QUOTABLE: “I must be a little behind this year because the guys are hitting me a little harder than they normally do. Healy took me over the batter’s eye three times in a row.” — Melvin, who throws a couple rounds of batting practice every day.

NOTEWORTHY: The A’s will hold a pair of two-inning intrasquad games Thursday at the Lew Wolff Training Complex, with both set to start at 11:40 a.m.

49ers assistant GM Gamble leaving organization

49ers assistant GM Gamble leaving organization

The San Francisco 49ers Wednesday announced that Tom Gamble is leaving the organization. 

“The 49ers organization has tremendous respect and appreciation for Tom Gamble and his many years of service,” said General Manager John Lynch. “He is a class act who has helped a great deal in this transition, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him. After working together over the last month, Tom and I agreed that it would be in both of our best interests for him to pursue other opportunities. Tom is a true professional and we wish him and his family great success in the future.”
 
“I must thank Jed, the York family and the entire 49ers organization for the wonderful memories they provided me and my family, but it is time I move on,” said Gamble. “This past month, I have had the pleasure of working alongside John Lynch and the talented staff he has assembled. The team is in capable hands and I wish them nothing but the best.”

Gamble, who recently completed his 29th NFL season and 10th with the 49ers, returned to the team in January of 2015 as the senior personnel executive and was later named assistant general manager on July 25, 2016. He spent the 2013-14 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles as vice president of player personnel. Gamble originally joined the 49ers in 2005 and spanned eight seasons with San Francisco including two as the director of player personnel (2011-12). He oversaw both the college and pro personnel efforts of the 49ers. As the 49ers director of pro personnel from 2005-10, Gamble monitored every NFL roster with an emphasis on scouting talent of upcoming pro free agents, while also maintaining continuous depth of personnel on the team’s roster.

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