EXTRA BAGGS: Bochy will drive pace car this spring

Bochy: 'Z really looks good'

EXTRA BAGGS: Bochy will drive pace car this spring
February 21, 2013, 5:00 pm
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Bruce Bochy will have to look to his non-roster invitees to step up with many players leaving Scottsdale to play in the WBC. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – There’s a rule that clubs must start at least four regulars in exhibition games, and at times, the league office has threatened fines for managers who get a little too prospect happy.

Not this year.

“That’s thrown out,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. ”With the World Baseball Classic and split squads, you’d have no chance.”

It’s the reason Bochy won’t play all his regulars in Saturday’s Cactus League opener against the Angels. It’s also the reason the Giants decided to call off their annual intrasquad game, which usually lasts three or four innings and gives all the younger players a little exposure.

Bochy needs those arms to be fresh – especially when a few of them such as Mason Tobin, Edward Concepcion, Boof Bonser and Mike Kickham aren’t ready to face hitters yet. (Kickham, a solid left-handed prospect, has a mild blister issue and was limited to fastball-change in his last mound session.)

It feels like we’ve been in Scottsdale for a month already and only a week has gone by. We’ve reached the stage where the games NEED to start. Yet you begin to realize how long this spring will last when you count the boxes on the schedule: 37 exhibition games, counting the three in the Bay Area against the A’s.

“You don’t want to overplay them,” Bochy said. “We just need to be sure we’re covered.”

Bochy did say that all five starting pitchers are on track and fully healthy to begin the exhibition schedule. The priority from now until March 2-3 will be to ensure the 10 players going to the WBC will be ready for full game intensity. That includes Ryan Vogelsong, who will take the ball Saturday.

The Giants are losing almost a fifth of the players in big league camp to the international tournament. Only the Brewers will send more players from their camp to the WBC.

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As I wrote last week, Barry Zito won’t spend his spring tinkering with new philosophies and ideas, only to unlearn it all and take a crash course in becoming the old Zito at the very end of camp.

He’s confident with who he is and what he throws.

I noticed more evidence of that in the moments before Zito threw live batting practice Thursday. Even though it was a completely relaxed setting with nothing at stake, Zito was ultra focused as he finished stretching and waited to warm up. He sat by himself in the dugout, plugged a finger in each ear, and appeared to be meditating.

Then when he took the mound, he was really, really impressive. All of his breaking balls had that familiar hump and bite. He made Hunter Pence swing and miss twice. He had a downward plane on his fastballs. And he appeared to be throwing everything straight over the top, from the same release point.

That is something that had been a problem for him in the past. It really seems like Barry Zito has it figured out now.

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Non-roster infielder Kensuke Tanaka is taking ground balls at shortstop and he’s also made it clear he’s willing to try playing left field in an effort to show his versatility and win a job.

Bochy gets asked about Tanaka a lot because he was a star with the Nippon Ham Fighters and many Japanese reporters have come to cover him this spring. One reporter apologized, saying he knows Bochy is probably tired of answering questions about Tanaka.

Another beat reporter told him not to worry, Bochy had plenty of that when Barry Bonds was chasing Hank Aaron’s record.

So, Bruce, what about Tanaka?

“We’re looking for him to hit 40 home runs,” the manager said, smiling.

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I’ll mention it again this spring, but it’s never too early to jog your memory…

The Giants have won 14 consecutive times in games started by Zito, which includes his three assignments in the postseason. He’ll carry that streak into 2013.

Also, Marco Scutaro has an active, 20-game hitting streak that he’ll carry into this season.

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I usually take a weeklong break in the middle of spring training, and a few years ago, I used that time to drive up to the Grand Canyon.

Snowflakes started to tickle the windshield a little north of Flagstaff, and there was a light dusting on the ground when I pulled my car into the motel parking lot near the South Rim.

The next morning, I awoke to a four-foot drift. And I had to dig out my poor rental Prius.

There are few things more awe-inspiring than the Grand Canyon spread out in front of you, its countless crevices all covered in blinding white snow, and the very bottom veiled in mystery by icy mist.

It wasn’t a particularly odd sight, though. The South Rim is at 7,000 feet.

What we saw Wednesday night in the Sonoran Desert? Now that was beyond odd.

I was writing a story about Buster Posey in my rental house, near Salt River Fields where the Rockies and Diamondbacks train, when I heard tapping along with thunder. I looked out the window. It was a hailstorm that lasted a half-hour and dumped 2 inches of Sno-cone ice in the little courtyard outside my front door.

When I left the house to report to the ballpark the next morning, the courtyard remained fully blanketed.

I have never seen that before in Scottsdale. Odder yet, they didn’t get any snow just six miles south at Scottsdale Stadium.

The Diamondbacks pushed back their workouts, then moved part of them to the A’s facility at Papago Park. (Special considerations left over from the Chris Young trade, perhaps?)

Looks like the weather will get back to normal after that cold storm. It’ll be in the mid-60s and sunny for the rest of this week.

That’s good. I’ll always have my photos of the Grand Canyon, and I brought a suitcase full of shorts to spring training.

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