Sacramento Notes: Gio At Home At Raley Field

Fans of the Sacramento River Cats who regularly attend games at Raley Field are probably surprised when they look up the stats on left-hander Gio Gonzalez and discover that he has a 5.24 ERA on the season. Gonzalez has been brilliant in front of the home fans, but he has struggled away from the Capitol City. We take a closer look at Gonzalez's season, plus other news surrounding the River Cats.

Gonzalez Putting His Best Foot Forward At Home

On Sunday, left-hander Gio Gonzalez earned his fourth win of the season by pitching six strong innings in a 10-1 win over the Tucson Sidewinders. He allowed one run on three hits and four walks while striking out seven. Gonzalez, who entered the season as the A's top pitching prospect, breezed through most of the game, enduring only two innings in which he allowed more than one base-runner.

The strong performance on Sunday came on the heels of a bad outing for Gonzalez, who had struggled at Salt Lake earlier in the week to the tune of allowing six runs in 2.2 innings. His last two starts have been indicative of his entire season to date. In eight outings at home, Gonzalez has resembled Cy Young, posting a 2.72 ERA and holding opposing batters to a .185 BA. On the road, it has been a different story, as Gonzalez has an 8.06 ERA in nine outings and batters are getting to him at a .339 clip. He has allowed 10 homers on the road and only one at home.

Sacramento's Raley Field plays as a fairly neutral park when it comes to offense in the Pacific Coast League, and some of Gonzalez's worst games have come in parks that are more hitter-friendly, including in Salt Lake, Colorado Springs and Tucson. Still, Sacramento manager Todd Steverson finds Gonzalez's home/road splits to be puzzling.

"I don't know [why he does better at home]. He's got the same stuff [on the road] and he's the same guy. They talk about home records and away records and stuff like that, and I don't give much credence to it," Steverson said after Sunday's game.

"You are facing guys in both situations with the same goal: you are trying to throw strikes and execute pitches, whether it be at home or away. There are different mounds and different fields and stuff like that, but you've got to get over it because you travel in the big leagues, too."

Gonzalez isn't sure why he has more success at home, but he admitted that he has a strong comfort level when he is pitching in front of the home crowd.

"I don't know what it is, really. I just feel comfortable at home. Who doesn't feel comfortable at home, you know?" Gonzalez said on Sunday.

"I was talking about this to [Sacramento pitching coach Rick Rodriguez] and I was saying, ‘I don't know why, but I really feel comfortable pitching here as opposed to other stadiums.' He was saying, ‘that's just a mental thing you have going right now.' Hopefully, my next start on the road will be a good one."

Gonzalez, who came to the A's in the Nick Swisher trade this off-season, had his curveball working and his fastball in the low-90s and in good locations on Sunday. He is still working on his change-up, which has been inconsistent this season.

"I've just got to keep throwing it to try to get the feel for it again," Gonzalez said.

At 22, Gonzalez is the youngest player on the River Cats' roster and one of the youngest pitchers in the Pacific Coast League. He has been working just as hard on the mental aspect of pitching at a high level as he has on the physical-side of the game.

"You do get flustered, but for me, the way that I try [to work out of jams] is to concentrate on throwing the pitch for a strike and let them swing at it. That is what my pitching coach [Rick Rodriguez] is constantly telling me. Let them swing at it and let them get themselves out. You've just got to go out there and trust [your defense]," Gonzalez said.

Steverson has seen Gonzalez do a better job of keeping his cool on the mound.

"He's an emotional guy. He's firey out there. He can get out-of-sorts for a second, but he has worked hard to get himself back to an even-keel," Steverson said.

Gonzalez hasn't needed his defense quite as much as most pitchers this season. Through Sunday, he ranked second in the PCL in strike-outs with 90 in only 87.2 innings. Six of his seven strike-outs on Sunday were of the swinging variety, many on pitches below the strike-zone. Gonzalez has been working on throwing strikes early in the count so that he can bury a few pitches below the knees to see if hitters chase. He has also worked on varying his game plan against hitters, being careful not to show them the same sequence of pitches throughout the game.

"Every hitter out here has a different way to pitch to them. These guys can swing the bat, so you can't constantly give them the pitches that they want and get away with it," Gonzalez said.

"You have to constantly mix it up for them. They see you for awhile and so you have constantly be changing. You have to show them one hand and give them the other one."

Pennington Excited To Go East In July; Hoping To Go Further East In August

Last week, Sacramento shortstop Cliff Pennington was named to the US roster for the 2008 All-Star Futures Game. The annual prospect showcase takes place the day before the MLB All-Star game, which is being held this year at Yankee Stadium. It is the final season for the baseball landmark, as the Yankees will be moving into a new Yankee Stadium next year. Pennington is thrilled that he will have an opportunity to play at Yankee Stadium before it closes.

This season, the Futures Game will have a twist. In past years, the players have been chosen to participate in the game based on their rating as highly touted prospects. This year, in addition to featuring the game's top prospects, the US roster will also include players who are being considered for a spot on Team USA for the 2008 Olympics, which will take place in Beijing this August. Pennington is one of the players who is being considered for a spot on the Olympic squad. His participation in the Futures Game will be part of a "tryout" for Team USA.

"They notified me that they had narrowed it down to 60 players, or something like that, and that they were going to decide after that," Pennington said on Sunday.

"They haven't told me anything final [about making the Olympic team]. Hopefully, I'll play well up until that point and have a good showing [at the Futures Game], and hopefully make the team."

Making the Olympic team would be a nice comeback story for Pennington. The A's top pick in 2005, Pennington missed much of the 2006 season and was slowed during the 2007 campaign by a severely torn hamstring. Finally healthy in 2008, Pennington has swiped 21 bases and has posted a .382 OBP in 78 games for Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento. He joined the River Cats in late May and is batting .271 with a .388 OBP in 28 games for Sacramento in his first taste of Triple-A baseball.

When asked what it would mean to him to participate in the Olympics, Pennington's eyes lit up and he had a big smile.

"It would be a dream come to true. It would be unbelievable."

Other News And Notes
- Outfielder Travis Buck, out since June 18th with a concussion, has been activated off of the disabled list. Buck sustained the concussion when he crashed into the outfield wall at Raley Field making a spectacular catch. He had been 2-6 with a homerun and a walk in two games since being sent down to Triple-A from the big leagues when he sustained the injury. Buck has a .160 average with three homers in 106 at-bats for the A's this season, but he is batting .337 with two homers in 98 at-bats for the River Cats.

- Outfielder Chris Denorfia has joined the River Cats on a rehab assignment. He has been on the A's disabled list since May 7th with discomfort in his lower back. Denorfia was added to the River Cats' roster on Sunday, but didn't appear in the game. He can remain on Sacramento's roster for 20 days before the A's need to call him up, suspend his rehab or designate him for assignment. Denorfia began a rehab with Sacramento in late May, but he had to suspend it when his back flared up again.

- Catcher Landon Powell entered the season with the reputation for having a cannon for a right arm. He has lived up to that reputation by throwing out better than 42 percent of would-be base-stealers this season, third-best in the Pacific Coast League. Sacramento's other catcher, Justin Knoedler, has thrown out nearly 37 percent.

- Through Sunday, Sacramento's pitching staff ranked second in the PCL with a team ERA of 4.26, only two points higher than the league leader, the Iowa Cubs (4.24 ERA).

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