Threets at crossroads with Giants

Lefty Threets at crossroads with Giants

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- In method, though not in performance, Erick Threets can legitimately be linked to Sparky Lyle, Ron Guidry and Al Leiter.

It would take an active imagination to associate Threets, who has pitched three Major League games, with those accomplished left-handers. But partly because of the common denominator among them -- Dave Righetti, the Giants' pitching coach and another left-hander of repute -- Threets might have a stronger chance to establish himself in the Majors and fulfill the talent that has long tantalized the organization.

Early in camp, Righetti taught Threets a new grip for his slider -- a pitch that the 26-year-old tried to refine during the offseason, at the behest of player personnel director Dick Tidrow. Righetti said he learned the grip as a New York Yankee from Guidry, the 1978 Cy Young Award winner with a .651 career winning percentage. Guidry picked up the style from Lyle, who amassed 238 saves as one of baseball's first impact closers. Righetti shared the tip with Leiter, who began his 19-year big league career as a Yankee.

Now the gift belongs to Threets, who has proven to be an apt pupil. In his lone Cactus League appearance so far, last Saturday against Oakland, Threets used a slider to strike out Richie Robnett. That helped Threets escape a bases-loaded, none-out jam with only one run scoring, which was one of the few positive developments for the Giants in a 23-5 loss.

The Giants would welcome an emergence from Threets, whose impressive velocity has been offset by poor control and a history of shoulder problems. The competition he faces among fellow left-handers is formidable but not insurmountable. Veterans Steve Kline and Jack Taschner are coming off seasons in which they allowed opposing left-handed batters to hit .318 and .316, respectively. Rule 5 Draft pick Jose Capellan has never pitched above Class A. Pat Misch is unscored upon in three innings spanning two appearances, but seems to be trapped on the San Francisco/Triple-A Fresno shuttle. Jonathan Sanchez could land in the bullpen if he loses the competition for the No. 5 starting spot, or he could continue to start in Triple-A.

"He could be a real late bloomer," Righetti said of Threets, who's beginning his eighth professional season. "He still has darn good stuff, [but] you have to use it properly. This'll be an important spring for him."

Threets' roster status heightens that importance. He's out of Minor League options, so the Giants must place him on waivers if he doesn't make the Opening Day squad. Although most other teams will face similarly difficult personnel decisions, at least one should want to take a chance on a pitcher of Threets' skills.

Threets knows that his immediate future is entirely out of his control.

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"What I can control is my mental outlook, my confidence in myself, knowing what I can do and presenting it in a way to make them make decisions," he said.

Told that he sounded extremely businesslike, Threets said, "That's the thing -- you do realize it's a business."

But sentiment did creep into his thoughts.

"I've been with the Giants for so long. This is all I know," he said. "I want to keep it that way."

Threets believes he has a chance to remain with the Giants -- as a Major Leaguer.

"I'd say this is the first year where I felt like I have a legitimate chance to make the team, as opposed to just getting looked at," said Threets, who has been in at least four big league camps.

Last season, Threets thrived for the second year in a row at Fresno, recording a 1.75 ERA and a .189 opponents' batting average in 37 relief appearances. His overall ERA of 3.46 was skewed by the three starts he made at the beginning of the season, a ploy to try to help him relax. Although Threets allowed 12 earned runs in 8 1/3 innings as a starter, Righetti said, "Regardless of how he did, I think it was a good experience for him."

The same could be said of Threets' promotion to the Majors last September, although he recorded a 19.29 ERA in three appearances.

"The anticipation of getting in a game was killing me," he said. "When I did, I was nervous. I wasn't sharp or consistent. I don't feel like I showed them anything." But, he added, "I kind of got a taste of what's out there, so mentally I can prepare myself for how the game is played at the big league level."

Threets continued his preparation during the offseason in the Mexican Pacific League, where he posted a 1.69 ERA in 18 outings with 20 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings.

"I wouldn't have been happy with myself going into Spring Training without more innings and repetition," he said.

Both ingredients have helped Threets improve command of his fastball, which reportedly was clocked at 100 mph before he underwent shoulder surgery in 2004 and missed the entire season.

"I can still get it up there," he said. "I'm trying not to aim it, but at the same time not be way out of control, like I used to be. I used to grunt and try to throw as hard as I could on every pitch."

Said Righetti, "We just want him to pitch at a proper speed to throw strikes. Whatever that comes out to be is plenty."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.