A;s Pitchers, Barry Bonds, Mike Montgomery, Barry Zito
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 02, 2008

IF YOU’RE wondering about the next great pitcher for the Oakland A’s, put a check mark by the name of Gio Gonzalez.

“He’s got everything he needs to be outstanding,” said A’s pitching coach Curt Young when I talked to him in the A’s clubhouse. “He’s got all the pitches, a very nice fast ball and a good cutter. It’s just a matter of getting a little more minor league experience, so he knows what to do in different situations.”

Gonzalez was the key figure in the Nick Swisher trade. Chicago White Sox general mnager insisted he wouldn’t include Gonzalez in the trade, but when A’s general manager Billy Beane said it was no deal without Gonzalez, Williams finally relented.

At Double-A Birmingham last season, Gonzalez led all minor league pitchers with 185 strikeouts, in just 150 innings. He yielded only 117 hits.

When he comes up, which could be as early as midseason, it will be to stay. The A’s will shuttle marginal pitchers – Dallas Braden is the latest example – back and forth between Sacramento and the parent club, but when they bring up a pitcher they think can star, they intend for him to stay. When they had the Big Three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, they all stayed at the major league level after they were brought up. Joe Blanton has stuck since he came up at the end of the 2004 season. Rich Harden has been in Oakland since the second half ot the 2003 season, except for brief rehab stints at Sacramento.

Harden is healthy again – knock on wood – and looked great in his opener against the Red Sox in Japan. He’s going again today against the Sox. “He’s something special, no doubt about it,” Young said.

When we talked last season, Young said there had been some discussion about altering Harden’s motion to keep him healthy. “But his motion is what makes him special,” Young said. Realizing that, the A’s have not tinkered with his motion.

“We’ve tried to reduce what he does in between starts,” Young said. “He’s only throwing one bullpen, instead of two. We’ve even shortened the distance he throws on long toss.”

At times last season, the A’s clubhouse resembled a hospital emergency room, and another pitcher, Chad Gaudin, had joined Harden on the disabled list by the end of the season. Gaudin also opened this season on the DL after December foot and hip surgery. He’s re-habbing in Sacramento and penciled in for a start on April 12 in Cleveland. Gaudin pitched very well in the first half of the season before running into injury probllems. “He hadn’t been a starter for a couple of years and he was closing in on 200 innings for us,” Young noted. “I think it was just a little bit too much for him.”

Only one of the pitchers obtained in the two big offseason trades will be in the starting rotation this month, Dana Eveland, obtained in the Dan Haren trade. "He’s a power lefthander, with a nice fast ball and good command,” said Young.

There are others who may be with the A’s in the next couple of years, because the purpose of the two trades was to re-stock the farm system with pitchers and players who could help the A’s in the near future.

“We’ve had good luck with pitchers we’ve gotten from other organizations (both Harden and Haren are in that category),” Young said. “They feel comfortable here because we do everything the same way in the minor leagues that we do on this level. Ron Romanowski (now the A’s bullpen coach) taught the same principles, right down to the long throwing between starts, that we teach here.: (Gil Patterson is now the roving pitching instructor in the minor league system.)

PAC-10 BASKETBALL: All season-long I was skeptical of the claims that the Pac-10 was the best basketball conference in the couontry. I watch very few of the national games during the season so I had no basis for direct comparison, but I’ve been watching college basketball for more than 50 years, so I know what quality looks like, and I didn’t see that much in the Pac-10.

What I saw mostly was a lot of teams in the middle, playing well one night and losing the next. The only team I thought capable of competing with the best in the country was UCLA. Washington State was very well coached, but their overall talent level wasn’t good enough to expect the Cougars to beat the top teams in the country. Stanford was the Lopez twins, but the supporting cast was…well, Oregon State.

So, in a pre-NCAA tournament column in the Examiner, I wrote that UCLA had a chance to win it all and the Bruins would have to carry the standard for the conference. That’s the way it’s turned out. The Bruins are in the Final Four for the third straight year. Stanford and Washington State made it one round further than I expected but were soundly defeated at that point, Stanford by a Texas team that was then decisively beaten in its next game.

Meanwhile, three Pac-10 teams had lost in the first round. Pac-10 coaches and supporters were pleased that six teams made the tournament, but it’s not really much of a distinction when you get beat in the first round.

COACHING SPECULATION: It’s been open season for rumors about coaching moves in college basketball. The wildest that I’ve seen had Mike Montgomery replacing Trent Johnson at Stanford, with Johnson then moving across the bay to Cal.

Johnson certainly wouldn’t make that move voluntarily. When we talked in his office about a month ago, he described coaching at Stanford as his “dream job.” When he coached Nevada/Reno, he had offers to go elsewhere – one from Utah – that he turned down. He told his players he wanted to stay at Reno and there was only one job that would change his mind: Stanford.

Johnson’s contract is up with this season but he’s just been named conference Coach of the Year, so I can’t see him getting fired. Nor can I see Montgomery pushing him out. Johnson was recruited by Montgomery to play at Boise State, when Montgomery was an assistant there, and was later an assistant for Montgomery at Stanford. Now working as a fundraiser for Stanford, Montgomery has an office on the other side of the Arrillaga Recreatioj Center and the two talk frequently. Since they both have a sarcastic wit, Montgomery especially, they often exchange insults.

Cal supporters would like to see Montgomery in Berkeley, and I don’t see that happening. Nor can I see him going back to Indiana, another rumor. Montgomery is set financially after his settlement with the Warriors, and he likes it very much at Stanford. I think he’s through with coaching.

FORGET BONDS? A week ago, the Giants had a Media Day, mostly to talk about their promotions for the season ahead. At that point, they played some of them on the message board, including commercials built around what is possibly the worst slogan ever, the one about “Gamers.”

The next day, a columnist who had been at the park wrote that the Giants were turning their back on Barry Bonds because there was no mention of him and no signs up about him. There was a reason for that: The day was about what will happen this season, and Bonds is not on the team.

Two days after that column, another columnist – who had not been there – took up the same theme, writing that the Giants had never done the right thing with Bonds, that they should have cut their ties to him earlier, that they shouldn’t ignore him now, ad nauseum.

News flash: The Giants are not turning their backs on Bonds. His home run record will be prominently displayed, and there will be displays of his accomplishments around the park. If either of these writers had thought for a nanosecond, instead of succumbing to a knee-jerk reaction, they would have realized that no franchise headed up by Peter Magowan would do that. Magowan signed Bonds before the deal to buy the Giants in 1992 was even completed (he needed the permission of Bob Lurie) and he is acutely aware of how much Bonds has meant to the club on the field and at the gate.

Nonetheless, this has become a national story. When I was a guest on a talk show out of New York on Monday night, the host asked me, “What do you think of the Giants turning their backs on Barry Bonds?” I explained the facts to him, but I have no hope that the facts will ever catch up with the original claim. It’s too good a story. Damn the facts, full speed ahead!

BAD DECISIONS: The Giants have made some really bad signing decisions in the last four years, starting with Edgardo Alfonzo and Ray Durham in 2003, right through Dave Roberts and the re-signing of Durham last year. But none has been so disastrous as the
big contract handed about to Barry Zito before last season.

This is not hindsight. When he was signed last year, I wrote that Zito would be no better than a No. 3 pitcher on a good staff, and that Zito’s contract – which could run eight years at $126 million and is backloaded – would heavily impact the Giants payroll. As usual, the Giants overpaid. The highest offer for Zito had been the New York Mets proposal of five years, $75 million.

It was especially baffling because Zito had been pitching for the A’s, just across the bay. Those of us in the media who had been watching him had realized how much he had gone downhill from his Cy Young year of 2002. Couldn’t a scout see that, too? Makes you wonder, and not for the first time, about the quality of Giants scouting.

Zito’s problems are twofold: 1) He’s lost about five mph on his fast ball. In his earlier years, his fast ball was 89-90, which is all right for a lefthander with good breaking stuff. Now, when he seldom gets above 84 mph, he doesn’t have enough contrast between his fast ball and off-speed pitches to bother the hitters timing; 2) Umpires stopped calling his 12-to-6 curve ball a strike, so hitters could lay off it. That was his out pitch, and he hasn’t been able to replace it.

The Giants optimists, from Magowan to manager Bruce Bochy talked of Zito “bouncing back” from last season’s 11-13 campaign. But that assumes that last year was an aberration for Zito, instead of an indication of what’s ahead.

If Noah Lowry can make a successful recovery from arm surgery, Zito will be no better than No. 4 among Giants starters. On a good team, he might have a shot at a .500 season, but the Giants are far from being a good team. Something like 9-14 sounds about right.

For years, the Bonds-haters among the media said that his contract was a weight on the Giants. They had the wrong Barry.


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