SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. How snakebitten were theGiants by injuries last season? Even when they were three innings away from along winters nap, they couldnt stay healthy. Dan Runzler providedone final instance for trainers to rush onto the field. In the seventh inningof the 162nd game, he strained a lat muscle in his side while throwing apitch.But a symbolic moment in a season gone awry turned into a blessing for Runzler.After completing his rehab work and getting married, he spent most of Januaryworking at AT&T Park with pitching coach Dave Righetti to smooth outthe many kinks in his delivery. Runzler had what scouts calla segemented delivery. Righetti chuckled when hearing that word. Toocharitable, he said. OK, then. Herkyjerky?
Go with that, Righetti said. With him, it is anissue and it has been. He got to the big leagues throwing more sidearm with aslurvy breaking ball. But it got away from him. He had trouble going through lineups,seeing hitters second time around, and blah blah blah. So weve tried to smoothhim out. Hes leading with his front arm, which is a bigkey. Even a casual observer could watch Runzler throw inthe bullpen this spring and notice the difference. I get soexcited, Runzler said. My emotions take over and its like I cannot wait todeliver the pitch. I end up overanxious to throw and I go too fast. Now Imworking on getting my front shoulder out there more. It works. The ball comesout really well and the command is a lot better when youre smooth. I feel thisis something I can repeat. Righetti was glad to hear thosecomments. Hell shake his head and say he understands andall that when we tell him things, but the game speeds him up, Righetti said.No question, Ive been there. Left-handed short men who throws hard they allcome out trying to overdo it. And he hasnt been able to settle in either,right? So its part of the deal when you try to break your waythrough. But hes on a good path. People forget, thatinjury is not just a little thing. Hes in great shape and coming out of (eachsession) good. The Giants have been excited about Runzersince 2009, when he got promoted four times while zooming up the organizationalladder. He began the season in Low-A Augusta with pitching coach (and formerbig league lefty) Steve Kline, and ended it with a 1.04 ERA in 11 big leaguegames. His upper-90s fastball and slider dominated hitters. ButRunzler, 26, hasnt been a dependable strike thrower in subsequent seasons. TheGiants spent almost 10 million to bring back left-handers Jeremy Affeldt andJavier Lopez in part because they didnt have faith Runzler would be physicallyor mentally ready to step into a highly leveraged bullpenrole. With Guillermo Mota and Clay Hensley in camp, Runzlerstands just an outside shot of making the opening-day roster. So hes goingabout his business this spring with the goal to improve his craft, not to win ajob. Its tough to stick in this pen, said Runzler, whoshould be allowed to face hitters within a day or two. Weve got six out ofseven guys who are all sewn up. Its the third year Im trying to make theteam, but I cant try to do it with every single outing. Instead,he is practicing the way he plans to pitch. Every repcounts, he said. Fix it in one pitch instead of three pitches. Thats what youhave to do in a game, so you might as well do it that way on the side. Imreally concentrating on that mental part of the game. Runzlerhas something to build upon. Although he ended last season with a 6.26 ERA in31 games, he strung together his best outings in September. In his last 11appearances, he didnt allow an earned run and walked two while striking outfive over 5 13 innings. His workload increased after Affeldt stabbed his handwhile trying to separate frozen hamburger patties.Did wemention the Giants were snakebitten last season?Boch likesto throw the hot hand, Runzler said of manager Bruce Bochy. Hell ride you aslong as youre doing well. When Runzler got to Scottsdale, he shook his headwhen he saw where clubhouse manager Mike Murphy set up his locker. Hes rightnext to Affeldt, who immediately put down strips of athletic tape on the carpetas lines of demarcation. He says my stuff always gets inhis way, Runzler said, trying not to roll his eyes. Hopefullythat stuff doesnt include a set of steak knives.