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.

Despite rough ending, Cotton's return start from minors is solid

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Despite rough ending, Cotton's return start from minors is solid

NEW YORK — Keep peeling away the layers of Jharel Cotton’s start Saturday, and there are several different ways to view it.

The A’s rookie pitched into the sixth inning despite enduring big-time command issues and giving up a run in the first.

He took a no-hitter into the sixth despite not having the feel for his best pitch, the changeup.

He was on the verge of completing six mostly dominant innings before losing a handle on things in the sixth, allowing a two-out rally that culminated with Matt Holliday’s two-run homer. That blast wound up being the difference in Oakland’s 3-2 loss to the Yankees.

It was an eventful 5 2/3-inning outing for Cotton in his return from the minors. He admitted he was very aware he had a no-hitter going, though it also must have registered that with his pitch count at 88 entering the sixth, he wasn’t going to get a chance to complete history.

“I wanted to just go out there and get (through) the sixth inning with no hits,” Cotton said. “I guess I thought about it too much and it just bit me.”

Taking the mound for his first big league start since being optioned to Triple-A on May 11, Cotton was also making his first start at Yankee Stadium. He couldn’t find the strike zone in the first, allowing a walk, a hit batsman and a wild pitch that led to Starlin Castro’s sacrifice fly and an early lead for New York.

But then he settled down and found a groove, retiring 15 out of 16 hitters for a stretch from the first all the way until the sixth. That was all the more impressive given that Cotton did not have the effective changeup that’s usually the centerpiece to his game plan.

Catcher Josh Phegley said he was encouraged by Cotton’s effort in his first start back from Triple-A.

“He was kind of sporadic at the beginning, so i was just calling a lot of cutters because that was our strike pitch,” Phegley said. “You’d like to have the changeup because it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen. But he’s got the stuff to do without one of his pitches and still compete and put us in a good position.”

The game turned when Cotton couldn’t slam the door in the sixth after retiring the first two hitters. He walked Gary Sanchez and then caught too much plate with a 1-0 cutter to Holliday, who signed a one-year $13 million contract with New York in the offseason. He drilled a two-run homer to left-center, and Cotton was lifted after Castro singled on his next batter.

“I didn’t want to walk that guy,” Cotton said. “You don’t wanna put guys on base with free passes and I did that, and it came back to haunt me.”

With Cotton’s pitch count crossing 100 in the sixth, A’s manager Bob Melvin said he had no second thoughts about not going to his bullpen earlier. Cotton was charged with three runs on just two hits with three walks and five strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.

“I was fine with him to get through the inning. That probably would have been it,” Melvin said. “You don’t take a guy out just because he’s got 100 pitches. He was pitching well.”

Cotton will be an important factor for the A’s moving forward given the injuries to starters Jesse Hahn and Kendall Graveman, with the former going on the 10-day disabled list Saturday and the latter expected to join him in the next day or two.

Suns forward: Durant joining Warriors made him easier to guard

Suns forward: Durant joining Warriors made him easier to guard

Jared Dudley and Kevin Durant were part of the same 2007 Draft Class.

Ever since then, Durant has been the toughest player for Dudley to guard.

The 10-year veteran acknowledged that defending Durant during the 2014 Western Conference Semifinals was his hardest assignment while speaking on The Ryen Russillo Show on ESPN Radio on Thursday.

"My worst time was going against Durant in the playoffs when I played for the Clippers and he was on OKC, and that was my matchup. And him coming down on the transition, and I'm thinking 'I know he can shoot the ball here and I can't touch him.' I just remember him crossing over and he takes one step from half court and dunks it. He's such a tough matchup because in the NBA, you can really get physical with guys, especially stars. So he shoots 90 (percent) from free throw, he can shoot the ball from three, so for me, he's always been my toughest matchup," Dudley said.

Dudley also discussed how it has become easier to defend Durant since he left Oklahoma City for Golden State.

"It actually made it easier, somewhat, him going to the Warriors because they have Klay (Thompson) and Steph (Curry) and he doesn't have that killer instinct, but overall, it's impossible," Dudley concluded.