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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bochy slow on trigger, Zito pays for it

Barry Zito's line was ugly Sunday, particularly the five walks and four earned runs in 5 1/3 innings.  But Zito deserved better.

For one, Bruce Bochy misread things, leaving Zito in too long. And two runs were added to his ledger because Aaron Rowand missed Skip Schumaker's slicing drive into left center in the decisive sixth inning of the Giants' 6-1 loss.

Going into the sixth, Zito had turned in a solid performance, locked in a 1-1 tie with Kyle Lohse. He got some critical outs in dangerous spots: In the third, after the first two Cardinals reached, he got Albert Pujols to ground into a double play and, then with runners at first and third, jammed Allen Craig for an inning ending pop out.

Zito induced an inning-ending double play in the fourth and had a 1-2-3 fifth, doing most of this work without his curve, relying on an effective cut fastball and changeup.

But by the sixth, it was evident, after 80 pitches, Zito was losing his effectiveness. Ironically, that's when he momentarily re-discovered his curve, getting the slumping Pujols to ground out to lead off the inning. He battled Matt Holliday nicely with a beautiful changeup and a nicely located fastball but Holliday worked the count full, and then walked on a fastball that missed badly.

At that point, Zito was at 90 pitches, and he was spent. If you know Zito's history, you know he fades as he gets to around 90 to 100 pitches. So, you get someone ready in the bullpen heading into the inning. But Bochy didn't get Guillermo Mota up until during Allen Craig's at bat.

That meant Zito had to labor through a five-pitch walk to Allen Craig. Now well past his expiration date, Zito remained out there against David Freese, who promptly smoked a changeup down the left field line for a run-scoring double. Even if Bochy hadn't yanked Zito before, nothing should have compelled him to stick with him now. But he did, thinking he'd take advantage of a lefty-on-lefty matchup. Which would have been fine if Zito had anything left.

He didn't. Schumaker jumped on his first pitch, a fastball down the middle, shooting a drive into left center. It was well stroked, but catchable. Rowand got there, but it glanced off the fingers of his glove -- not the tip, but inside the glove, a few inches away from the pocket. If he catches it the damage is limited, and perhaps the game remains 2-1 and the Giants wouldn't have had the uphill climb that a 4-1 deficit poses.

Bochy said Rowand "thought he had it. He just didn't hang onto it. Still the ball was hit hard."

Bochy said he wanted to stick with Zito, partly because he thought he was still effective and partly to try to save the bullpen

"You can always look back when the guy gives up a hit and say, well, I should've taken him out," Bochy said after the game. "But he had been doing a pretty good job in traffic, making pitches when he had to. It was a 1-1 game and I wanted to give him a chance there to get out of it because he's got a knack for doing it.
"But we have been using the pen quite a bit so I was hoping he could find a way to get through that inning. He had that one right hand hitter and the lefty. I knew his count was getting up there a little bit. But that's the way this goes. The pen has been used quite a bit. It's hard to go them these guys in the sixth inning every game. We had an extra inning game. We've had some guys throwing quite a bit." 

In the last week, the Giants played five games and had two days off.

In that time, Mota pitched twice for 4 IP (before Sunday); Ramon Ramirez pitched in four games for 3 2/3 IP; Sergio Romo twice for 2 IP; Brian Wilson twice for 1 1/3 IP; Jeremy Affeldt threw twice for 1 IP; Javier Lopez once for 2 IP; and Dan Runzler twice for 2 IP (Friday and Saturday).

If Bochy had anyone to worry about, it would have been Runzler and Ramirez, who both pitched on Friday and Saturday. As it turned out, he went to Mota for the third time this week and allowed him to go 2 1/3 IP, he brought in Affeldt for an out and put Romo in for an effective ninth.

He could have done precisely that, only three batters earlier.


Brandon Belt wasn't charged with an error on an inconsequential pop fly he dropped in the ninth that was rendered moot when Pujols struck out two pitches later. But the drop was emblematic of the struggles the rookie is going through. After taking an 0-for-4, Belt dropped to .161 (5-for-33), and is in the throes of a 3-for-24 slump (.125).

The question is whether the Giants are willing to ride this out until Cody Ross returns in a couple weeks, and hope he irons out his swing. Or, whether they will decide the buzzsaw that he's fighting isn't doing him any good and send him to Fresno to help him get his swing back under a lighter glare. That would open up an opportunity for Travis Ishikawa to return as the backup first baseman, bring Huff back to his natural position, and force the Giants to work out the outfield mess with a possible callup in the offing, depending on the injured Andres Torres' status.


Mike Fontenot couldn't have had a more frustrating first three at bats. Ten pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts.


Three Cardinals' regulars -- Colby Rasmus, David Freese and Skip Schumaker -- entered the three-game series with the Giants without RBI on the season. By the end, all three had collected their first RBI: Rasmus on a solo HR Saturday, and Freese (3) and Schumaker (2) on Sunday.


Rowand hit the ball hard three times, but only had one hit, his 9th inning double, to show for it. He went 1-for-4 and is now 1-for-8 as a starter after starting out 6-for-10.


Pablo Sandoval is at .400 after nine games, and has hit safely in all seven games he's started, including three multiple-hit games. He drove in the Giants' only run Sunday on a broken bat line drive single (yes, he still hit it hard despite cracking his bat) in the first. He has also shown patience in the last several games, holding back on pitchers' pitches such as sliders down and in and fastballs up.

Pujols came into San Francisco in a serious funk and left it even worse off.

He was hitting .182 (4-for-22) coming in, and after a 1-for-13 series, he's dropped down to .143 (5-for-35), which fans behind home plate were doing their best to remind him with chants of One-Four-Three! It's his worse start to a season, and it comes as he's looking for a major contract extension. He insists it's typical for him, pointing to the cooler weather, the sharper pitching and the difficulty in adjusting to the travel schedule.

Pujols had a similar April stretch last year, going 5-for-34 in a seven-game spell, but never fell below .275 that month, and finished up with 7 HR, 19 RBI, .345 BA.

Here's how Pujols did in previous Aprils:

2009: 8 HR, 28 RBI, .337 BA (he had a 1-for-10 "slump")
2008: 5 HR, 20 RBI, .365 BA (he had a 2-for-13 spell)
2007: 6 HR, 15 RBI, .250 BA (he hit .160 through April 17 before breaking out of it with a 4-for-11 in San Francisco)
2006: 14 HR, 32 RBI, .346 BA (despite a 3-for-19 stretch)
2005: 6 HR, 19 RBI, .322 BA
2004: 7 HR, 17 RBI, .287 BA (including a 4-for-19 stretch)
2003: 5 HR, 16 RBI, .385 BA
2002: 5 HR, 19 RBI, .295 BA (including a 5-for-25 stretch)
2001: 8 HR, 27 RBI, .370 BA

The numbers show that he indeed has had some history of rough patches in April, but nothing has matched what he's started out with this year.

Unfortunately, the Giants won't face the Cardinals again until May 30 for a four-game series in St. Louis. Undoubtedly, Pujols will have rediscovered his stroke by then.

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