When the Giants called to express their interest in signing him over the offseason, Zack Littell had the opportunity to speak with director of pitching Brian Bannister, who suggested he should start throwing a splitter.
“Lucky enough, I had already started,” Littell said.
Littell, a 25-year-old right-hander, signed a Minor League deal with the Giants before being added to the club’s bullpen on Friday. He spent the first three years of his career with the Twins, where he was a teammate of two-time All-Star Tyler Clippard in 2020. Clippard -- “who has made a lot of money over the years throwing a splitter,” Littell noted -- became the first person to tell Littell that he should consider adding the pitch to his arsenal.
“Getting to work with him was really interesting,” Littell said. “He kind of came to me and said, ‘Hey, you know, the way your body moves, the way your mechanics are, a splitter might be the pitch for you.’ So I started playing catch with it, started kind of throwing it in bullpens.
“I went home in the offseason and bought a Rapsodo so I could look at some data and get some hard feedback and really try to develop that pitch coming into spring.”
Littell logged a 2.68 ERA over 29 appearances for the Twins in 2019, but he dealt with injuries last year and ended the pandemic-shortened campaign with a 9.95 ERA over six games. The North Carolina native was removed from Minnesota’s 40-man roster in September, allowing him to become a free agent over the offseason.
Littell said he received interest from several teams, but the Giants were the only club that gave him the opportunity to speak directly with their head of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi.
“The entire time it just felt like the Giants really made an effort,” Littell said. “I felt like this is the spot to be in, and I still feel that way.”
Littell began throwing his new splitter in games for the first time this spring, and he said he now views the weapon as a “go-to pitch” and a nice complement to his mid-90s fastball. He hopes his splitter will enable him to better neutralize lefties, who have hit .292 against him in his career.
“We wanted to add something to try and combat that and get left-hand hitters out, and we felt like a splitter was the best one,” Littell said. “So it’s what kind of came natural to me, and I think it has the potential to be a really, really, really good pitch.”
Littell has worked 1 1/3 scoreless innings in his first two appearances with the Giants and should help bolster the Giants’ bullpen depth from the right side.
• Reyes Moronta (right flexor strain) experienced forearm tightness while warming up for a bullpen session on Saturday and will be evaluated by team orthopedist Dr. Kenneth Akizuki. Moronta has been sidelined since April 11, but the Giants were hoping he’d be ready to rejoin the bullpen at some point this week. The latest issue is a troubling development for Moronta, who missed the entire 2020 season while rehabbing from right shoulder surgery.
• Manager Gabe Kapler said there’s some optimism that outfielder Mike Yastrzemski (left oblique strain) could be activated off the 10-day injured list Friday. There is still no timetable for the return of infielder Donovan Solano (right calf strain), but Kapler said the second baseman is “moving in the right direction.”
• Right-hander Johnny Cueto (lat strain) threw a live batting practice session in Sacramento on Saturday and is continuing his throwing program. The Giants have said he could potentially slot back into the rotation on May 9, at the earliest.