Littell faces Giants year after incident; Kapler holds no grudge

Littell faces Giants year after incident; Kapler holds no grudge originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO — Zack Littell’s last Giants appearance on the mound at Oracle Park was a memorable one — for all the wrong reasons.

After giving up two runs and putting the tying run on base against the Atlanta Braves last Sept. 12, 2022, Littell had some words for Gabe Kapler when the manager came out to remove him. Kapler pulled the right-hander into the dugout tunnel for an intense conversation, and a day later he was optioned back to Triple-A, although the Giants insisted the timing was a coincidence. Littell never returned and was taken off the roster in the offseason.

It’s not a surprise to see Littell back with another team, or even to see him starting a game, given that the other team is the one that uses openers more than anyone. But Littell isn’t an opener or even a reliever these days.

In desperate need of starting pitching, the Tampa Bay Rays started to stretch Littell out last month. He has pitched 17 innings in his last three starts, throwing more than 70 pitches each time and topping out at 82.

The Giants knew Littell, a starter in the minors, could handle a pretty solid workload and twice had him throw three relief innings in his two seasons with the team, but this is still something very new. Littell had never thrown more than 4 1/3 innings until July 30 but he’s now a full-blown starter.

It’s peak Rays, and as Littell returned in a new role, Kapler said he’s not surprised by the success. He also has no hard feelings.

“I really liked Zack and thought he did a nice job for us,” Kapler said. “The ending wasn’t ideal but I personally never came off the position that I thought he was a good, quality reliever and a guy that was great to have around the clubhouse and worked really hard. He wasn’t at his best at the end there.”

Littell has put the incident behind him as well. He told the Tampa Bay Times that it was “just one of those heat of the moment-type interactions.”

Things have worked out well for the 27-year-old, who also was with the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox this season before finally gaining traction with the Rays. He has upped his splitter usage to mix things up as a starter, and Rays manager Kevin Cash praised Littell for “making adjustments during starts.”

On Tuesday, his old teammates will try and get to him at a time when they desperately need a big game.

“He’s a big, strong, physical, durable guy,” Kapler said. “I don’t think that anybody would be surprised that a guy who is as talented as Zack is (has made) that transition given his starter history and the split addition.”

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