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Gabe Kapler explains Zack Littell demotion after heated exchange on mound

Gabe Kapler explained why the Giants chose to option Zach Littell one day after his viral interaction with the right-hander.

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Kapler says decision to option Littell solely ‘performance-based’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO — When the Giants cut ties with Dominic Leone over the weekend, manager Gabe Kapler said it was time to look at some other relief options down the stretch. Left-hander Thomas Szapucki was high on the list and returned to the big leagues on Tuesday, but it was the other part of that transaction that drew most of the attention at Oracle Park.

To open a roster spot for Szapucki, the Giants optioned right-hander Zack Littell, who showed his displeasure on Monday night after being removed by Kapler in the eighth inning. The two then went into the dugout tunnel for a heated conversation.

The timing of getting Littell off the active roster certainly raised eyebrows, but Kapler said it was “very much a baseball decision” and that there was a “good chance” that Littell and Szapucki would have been swapped even before Monday’s incident. Scott Alexander, who replaced Littell on Monday, won’t be available on Tuesday and possibly on Wednesday, so the Giants wanted another lefty in their bullpen.

Kapler met with Littell briefly on Tuesday before the right-hander left to join Triple-A Sacramento.

“I think the most straightforward way to think about it is there’s a lot of competition in our bullpen all the time,” Kapler said, “And the way I explained it to Zack is that I totally understand that he may feel like the decision to have him go to Sac was related to the interaction that we had last night on the mound and subsequently in the tunnel. I tried to assure him that it was very much performance-based and we have a lot of arms that we want to get a look at in our bullpen, including getting Szapucki here on the roster.

“There’s no doors closed and (Littell) can get back to the Major League level and perform for us, but it’s going to take good performance at the Triple-A level and it’s going to be based on need in our Major League ‘pen and what we need down the stretch here. I can understand why (the move) would seem correlated from the outside, but I think we’re making this move to get Szapucki on (the roster) independent of the incident that we had.

“I’ll say this, good teammate behavior is part of performance as well. I don’t want to say that there’s no part of makeup that we consider when we make decisions. I think that’s always going to be considered and we’re going to appreciate and respect the highest level of teammate behavior always.”

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Kapler noted that Littell has been “a great teammate” throughout his Giants tenure, but the performance has dipped this year. After posting a 2.92 ERA and 3.87 FIP last season, Littell is at 5.08 and 4.65 this season with a diminished strikeout rate.

Littell had pitched three of the last four days, including Monday, when he allowed two runs before Kapler turned to Alexander to face Matt Olson. That set Littell off, but Littell later visited his manager’s office to apologize for his behavior on the mound.

“I think Zack would like an opportunity to do that over and I think he’s going to get those types of opportunities going forward,” Kapler said. “He’s in his mid-twenties and he’s talented and he’s going to have multiple chances and multiple cracks at the Major League level and many more interactions like the one we had last night, when a manager is coming out to get the ball and his job is to hold on to anything that he wants to talk about until after the game.”

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