Chisox hammer Zito, but rotation spot is safe

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Chisox hammer Zito, but rotation spot is safe

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- First, the good news as it concerns Barry Zito: Hitters couldn't touch the last 25 pitches he threw.

The bad news: That's because he threw them in the bullpen.

Zito had to plump up his pitch count to 85 because the Chicago White Sox bushwhacked him Sunday at Camelback Ranch. Zito faced 18 batters and gave up nine hits plus two walks in 2 13 innings. The contact was loud, too. It included three doubles and back-to-back home runs by A.J. Pierzynski and Alex Rios.

Yes, Zito served one up to Pierzynski. Researchers are trying to determine if there has never been a darker day in Giants franchise history.

A start like this for Zito would be alarming at any point in the spring. Manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged this one was more unsettling because it came with a week until camp breaks. Zito has just two more exhibition starts before he'd take the mound April 9, when the Giants will play in the Colorado Rockies' home opener at Coors Field.

"Hopefully he can learn from this," Bochy said. "He's going to he out there (every fifth day). Hopefully the next start he can bounce back and get in a groove."

Zito said he knows what he needs to address.

"I've been harping on getting downhill on a good plane," Zito said. "Today I was rushing my body and the arm couldn't catch up. Downhill plane is everything. If your fastball comes out on a downhill plane and the offspeed comes out how the fastball comes out, that's how you get guys off balance. Today, because my arm was late, the fastball was up and the other stuff was recognizable. Even a couple good curveballs got hit."

Zito called it "definitely something that requires attention. ... Ideally you make that adjustment the next pitch. Today, I was laboring to make the adjustment in three pitches and not one."

Said Bochy: "Sure, you don't want to see it this late, but it's going to happen. Better here than in the season. You're hoping he's at a point he can get locked in. Overall, I think he's thrown well. ... Today he never got settled in. Every inning was a struggle."

Bochy reiterated that all he wants from Zito, a back-end starter, is to "give us a chance to win."

Zito is throwing in the low 80s this spring but could take a lesson from another left-hander who could appear in that first series at Coors Field. That would be 49-year-old Jamie Moyer, who threw four perfect innings against the Giants on Saturday at Salt River Fields. Moyer, who could be the Rockies' No.5 starter, didn't throw a pitch above 78 mph.

"He mixes his pitches really well and he's always giving guys a different look, whether it's cutter in, heater away or changeup," Zito said. "He's always making pitches just out of the zone. It's that feel for where to put the pitch and having the timing to (execute it). That's what Jamie has done so well."

Zito said he isn't sure where his velocity has been this spring but "it'd be nice" to add a little more. Mostly, he said he just needs to do a better job hitting his spots.

Zito has a 6.61 ERA this spring but said he mostly has felt good about how he's thrown in bullpen sessions and in games prior to Sunday. Even if the Giants don't feel as confident in Zito, they don't have much of a choice. He is making 19 million this year, 20 million in 2013 and has a 7 million buyout on an option in 2014.

Considering that eating Aaron Rowand's 12 million contract last August was a decision that contributed to the ouster of former managing partner Bill Neukom, it's hard to envision the Giants seriously entertaining the notion of cutting Zito anytime soon.

Giants spring training day 8: Melancon, Hundley go way back

Giants spring training day 8: Melancon, Hundley go way back

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A couple of days before he signed a four-year deal, Mark Melancon fired off a midnight text to Nick Hundley. 

“Call me,” Melancon wrote.

When Hundley called, he found out his college teammate had chosen the Giants, ending a free agency process the two spoke about often. Two months later, it was Hundley’s turn to reach out. 

“I asked him if he wanted to play together again,” Hundley said. “He said, ‘You better not be messing with me.’”

The Giants signed just two free agents who are guaranteed of being on the opening day roster. In an odd twist, the new closer and new backup catcher have known each other for over a decade. Hundley was a second-round pick in 2005 out of the University of Arizona. A year later, his college teammate Melancon was a ninth-round pick. The two have stayed close throughout the pro ball journey. They were groomsmen in each other’s weddings and their wives and children hang out together. 

“We always talked about playing together,” Hundley said, adding that the odds were long in a 30-team sport.

The friends have crossed off a good chunk of them. Melancon has played for the Yankees, Astros, Red Sox, Pirates and Nationals. Hundley has played for the Padres, Orioles and Rockies. Finally, the two have hooked on to the same team, and the Giants are excited to have them both. Hundley will be the veteran catcher the team has missed in recent years, and the Giants are hopeful that he’s a pinch-hit threat, too. Melancon, of course, was brought in to fix the glaring problem in the ninth. Hundley is confident he’ll do it.

“I’ve caught him since 2005,” he said smiling, “And he’s always been nasty.”

NEW FACE: It’s hard to take much away from drills, but Orlando Calixte certainly impressed. As the Giants worked out on the field for the first time in three days, I asked GM Bobby Evans what Calixte showed the team’s scouts. “Just his athleticism, his tools, they stand out,” Evans said. They certainly do. Calixte is smooth out there, and he showed quickness at short that might differentiate him from the pack of infield options. 

Calixte has also played second, third and the outfield in the minors, and while the Giants intend on keeping five outfielders, that versatility could come into play. The Giants plucked Calixte from Kansas City’s system and put him on the 40-man roster when it became apparent that other offers were out there. They thought he could provide more versatility than Ehire Adrianza, and it helps that he has an option remaining. Calixte has to beat out a bunch of guys to win a roster spot, but given his glove and his status on the 40-man, it would be a surprise if we don’t see him at some point this season. 

ICYMI: Bruce Bochy said he’ll call Johnny Cueto to talk about his preparation for the World Baseball Classic. 

POSITION BATTLE: Matt Cain, the clear frontrunner for the No. 5 spot, faced hitters on the main field. Bochy liked what he saw. “He’s gotten more time away from that surgery and he’s throwing the ball well,” Bochy said. “Buster said the same thing. It’s coming out good.”

NOTEWORTHY: The Giants are serious about making Trevor Brown a more versatile option. He fielded grounders at short today and also spent plenty of time at second. 

QUOTABLE: “Just a good day. We (the coaches) were talking about how it’s changed a little bit. We’re not even in March yet and guys are letting it go.” — Bochy on the first day of live BP sessions. The pitchers were certainly well ahead of the hitters today. 

Will Cueto be ready for the WBC? 'That’s the question we have to answer'

Will Cueto be ready for the WBC? 'That’s the question we have to answer'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jeff Samardzija whirled and fired a strike to Eduardo Nuñez shortly after 11:30 a.m. on Monday. With that, the Giants took another step back toward actual baseball.

Monday was the first day of live batting practice sessions, but the most important one took place thousands of miles east of Scottsdale Stadium. Johnny Cueto faced teenage prospects at the club’s facility in Santo Domingo, and Bruce Bochy said he would call Cueto to check in on his progress. 

The Giants are not concerned that Cueto — who is tending to his ill father — is missing so much of spring training. They know him well enough by now to know that Cueto paces himself and takes care of his body. They are, however, starting to get a little concerned about Cueto missing so much camp and then going straight to the World Baseball Classic. 

“The spring started early so he’s got plenty of time to get ready for (opening day),” manager Bruce Bochy said. “The question will be will he be ready for the WBC. That’s the question we have to answer.”

Bochy said he would like to see Cueto in the 50-60 pitch range before he goes off to compete for the Dominican Republic. The Dominican team opens play March 9 at Marlins Park. 

“We’re going to talk about a lot of things,” Bochy said. “We’ll see where he’s at, see where he’s at mentally, and see how his father is doing.”

Bochy noted that Nolan Ryan used to show up to camp on March 1 and throw 80 mph, working his way up from there. The Giants view Cueto the same way, but at some point there will be a breaking point where the WBC participation becomes a real concern. At the very least, Bochy said, Cueto might be asked to join the DR team later in the tournament.