PHOENIX -- Giants reliever George Kontos' success as a big leaguer is partly because of a bit of miscommunication.
A fifth-round draft pick of the New York Yankees in 2006, Kontos was a promising, hard-throwing starter when Tommy John elbow-ligament replacement surgery halted his progress in 2009. When Kontos returned to the field, coaches encouraged him to "get on top of the ball" more often.
"That means getting your fingers on top of the ball, but I took it as coming over the top with my whole arm," he said, demonstrating how his arm now comes through closer to his head. "My arm angle got quite a bit higher, and it actually worked out in my favor."
Kontos found that his sinker had more movement, his changeup had more depth and his slider had more tilt, keeping the pitch from breaking into the sweet spot for left-handed hitters as it often had before the surgery. He even felt his mechanics improve.
By September 2011, Kontos had reached Yankee Stadium as a reliever. A few months later, he was one of several pitchers still fighting for a spot on the final day of camp when general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi called him into an office in the eighth inning of the last spring game. Kontos, who had long dreamed of a lengthy career in pinstripes, was headed to Fresno, home of the Giants' Triple-A team.
"I was like, 'But I don't want to leave -- I like it here,' " Kontos said, smiling. "I thought, and everyone in my
As it turned out, the move couldn't have worked out any better for Kontos and the Giants, who swapped an extra catcher, Chris Stewart, for a pitcher who would have a 2.47 ERA in 44 appearances and give manager Bruce Bochy a shutdown right-hander to help get the ball to Sergio Romo and the rest of the closer committee.
Even though Bochy hasn't 100 percent locked Kontos into an opening-day spot, general manager Brian Sabean gave the 27-year-old a pretty telling vote of confidence last week.
"Just the fact that he stayed in the big leagues all year and was on every playoff roster speaks for itself," Sabean said when asked if Kontos were a lock.
A year after being traded right before the Yankees roster was set, Kontos said he will continue to pitch as if he is in a fight for his spot. To prepare for that spring mindset, Kontos literally started fighting. He added Muay Thai martial arts and boxing to an already intense offseason workout routine in Chicago.
Through three spring outings, Kontos has looked sharp, doing nothing to jeopardize his spot in a clubhouse he quickly fell in love with after last season's trade.
"I'm happier now than I've ever been in baseball," Kontos said. "Things have a funny way of working out, and for me, it all worked out really, really well."
It was the second monster homer of the spring for Bond, who has just four homers in 1,800 career minor league at-bats but owns a .410 career on-base percentage. Bond also made a superb diving play at second in the 13-9 victory over the A's.
"He's been impressive," Bochy said. "He's not getting a lot of time, but he's taking advantage of it. He's intriguing when you look at the numbers he has put up in the minors."