Tag: Barry Zito

Barry Zito Retires from MLB: Latest Comments and Reaction

Veteran pitcher Barry Zito announced his retirement from baseball Monday in an article he wrote for the Players’ Tribune:

I’m retiring today from baseball, but I’ll never be too far away from the game that made me who I am. I am beyond thankful to be at peace with walking away, thanks in large part to my year of renewal in Nashville with the Sounds. My return to Oakland last month was a “cherry on top” moment in my life that my family and I will never forget. I will no doubt be in the stands on both sides of the Bay in years to come.

Zito, 37, spent 15 seasons in the major leagues with the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants. He was a three-time All-Star who won the Cy Young Award in 2002 and secured two World Series rings with the Giants in 2012 (though he was left off the postseason roster when the team won the 2010 title).

He was also one-third of the dominant pitching trio that included Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson during his early days with the Athletics.

He spent the 2015 season with the Nashville Sounds, Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate, before being recalled to the Athletics in September. According to his article announcing his retirement, he will now be pursuing a career as a songwriter.


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Barry Zito to Start vs. Tim Hudson in Saturday’s Giants vs. Athletics Matchup

There has been very little for Oakland Athletics fans to cheer for during the 2015 season, but that will change Saturday when fans are treated to a nostalgic afternoon of baseball.

The team announced Tuesday that Barry Zito will start Saturday’s game against the San Francisco Giants. One of his former Oakland teammates, Tim Hudson, will toe the rubber for San Francisco in a showdown that is bound to conjure memories for those in attendance.

This clash is particularly noteworthy for Athletics fans because Zito, Hudson and Mark Mulder formed the backbone of a strong pitching staff that helped the team reach the postseason four straight years from 2000-03. Oakland won the American League West three times during that span as well, thanks largely to the dominating performances that can be seen below:

Both veterans are expected to retire after the year, which will mark the end to two incredible careers.

The fans will not be the only ones excited by Saturday’s festivities, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle noted:     

As if the starting pitching matchup weren’t enough, all three players will be honored in a pregame ceremony before Sunday’s contest, as the team announced:

The three pitchers will throw ceremonial first pitches Sunday before Oakland’s final home game of the campaign.

Oakland is eliminated from the postseason race, and the Giants are virtually out of contention (although not mathematically). While both teams would prefer a high-stakes clash on the Bay with postseason positioning on the line, the fans will settle for a look back at the good old days with the former stars.

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Barry Zito Called Up by Oakland A’s: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

After spending the entire 2015 season in Triple-A, former American League Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito will join the Oakland Athletics for the final two weeks of the Major League Baseball season.   

According to the A’s official Twitter account, the team recalled Zito and Cody Martin from Nashville and placed Jesse Chavez on the 60-day disabled list. Assistant general manager David Forst said the move was strictly to help the bullpen, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Forst said Zito wouldn’t start, including the matchup with Tim Hudson and the Giants on Sept. 26, per Slusser

Zito said he was set to retire before A’s GM Billy Beane called him, and he missed the first call because he was in a songwriting session, per Jane Lee of MLB.com.

Zito last appeared this season on Sept. 7 with a perfect inning against Omaha. Nashville Sounds radio announcer Jeff Hem noted that it elicited an ovation from his teammates for what “could” have been his final appearance as a professional pitcher. 

Former A’s teammate Tim Hudson said he hopes Zito will get to start in Oakland, per Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area. “I think it would be special,” Hudson commented.

Speaking to Slusser, Zito had previously made it sound like he wasn’t expecting to be called up by the A’s and that the end was near: “I thought I did everything I could to get a call-up when I was going all right, but it just didn’t work out. At least I know I gave myself the best chance I could.”

In 24 appearances with Nashville this season, Zito had a 3.46 ERA, 91 strikeouts and 60 walks in 138 innings. The 37-year-old last pitched in the big leagues with the San Francisco Giants during the 2013 season, posting a 5.74 ERA and 173 hits allowed in 133.1 innings. 

Zito won the World Series with the Giants in 2010 and 2012, though his best success came in Oakland from 2000 to 2006. He won a Cy Young Award in 2002 and had an ERA of 3.55 in 222 starts during that time frame. Even though the Athletics won’t be getting the once-dominant Zito, at least this way he can presumably end his career where it started and get a nice send-off from the fans in Oakland.

The A’s are 62-83 with nothing to lose at this point, so letting the southpaw ride off into the sunset will be a good farewell to what has been an otherwise forgettable season in Oakland. 

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Barry Zito to Athletics: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

Barry Zito and the Oakland Athletics are reuniting. 

The team announced Zito has been signed to a minor league deal: 

The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Susan Slusser initially reported the news on Monday.

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman added some monetary details: 

Zito commented on the news, via Slusser: “I just want to pitch. I love baseball. I want to enjoy the game…I’ll let my pitching speak for itself—or not speak for itself. Talk is cheap. We’ll see what happens when it happens.”

Zito, a first-round pick by the A’s in 1999, spent seven seasons with the team, compiling 102 wins, a 3.55 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. He won the Cy Young Award in 2002 and was named to three All-Star Games, serving as a crucial piece on some very good Athletics ballclubs

Still, expectations will obviously have to be tempered. 

Zito, who failed to live up to a massive contract with the San Francisco Giants, last pitched in 2013, when he went 5-11 with a 5.74 ERA, 1.70 WHIP and a career-worst 11.7 hits allowed per nine innings. 

Perhaps the lefty’s year off will help him enjoy a career revival, but ultimately, it’s going to be difficult for the 36-year-old to crack a spot in the starting rotation. 

Still, it’s a low-risk move for Oakland, and it brings a fan favorite back home. 


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless noted otherwise.

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MLB Waiver Wire: MVPs, Riskiest Players and Potential Suitors

Players who range from assuredly lucrative to downright comical to generally intriguing make up the MLB waiver wire in 2013. Hot commodity Alex Rios finally went to the Texas Ranger, but some other big names have cleared waivers as well and still sit on their respective teams. Here’s a look at some guys who could move in the immediate future and the teams that should be in the hunt for them.



Elvis Andrus

While it might seem silly for Texas to trade one of the (usually) more productive shortstops in the game to another contender, the Rangers have a surplus of middle infielders and can afford to let the 24-year-old go.

Andrus hasn’t been the offensive threat in 2013 as he had been in years past. His slash line is .254/.317/.305, which is below his career .271/.338/.345, but he’s already racked up 30 steals and still has the potential to be a weapon at the plate.

He also hasn’t displayed the same defensive acumen this year as he did in 2012. According to FanGraphs.com, his ultimate zone rating (UZR)—the most complicated but comprehensive defensive stat in the gamehas dropped from 2012’s 8.3 (sixth best in the majors) to 3.2 (11th best in the majors). But the glove wizardry is still there:

Still, the fact that he’s fallen so short of expectations this yearespecially after signing an eight-year, $120 million contract extension—could increase Texas’ willingness to part with him. If the Rangers encounter the right deal, they’ll entertain trade talks:

The team with the biggest need for Rios is St. Louis because Pete Kozma has been abysmal. There are better-hitting pitchers than him. His .225/.273/.284 line is by far the worst on the team. Yes, he can flash the leather with the best of them, but fans are fed up:

And the Cards are keeping their eyes open for an upgrade:

I’ll also mention that Cincinnati could benefit from benching Zack Cozart, but the Cincinnati Enquirer’s John Fay thinks adding Andrus is unlikely:


Dan Haren

Not too long ago, Haren seemed to be one of 2013’s biggest disappointments. He was pitching to the tune of a 7-11 record with a 4.82 ERA—not exactly what the Washington Nationals had in mind when they signed him to a one-year, $13 million deal last December.

But wait, there’s been salvation:

According to Michael Barr of FanGraphs.com, Haren’s better pitches have become even more wicked:

In the second half, suddenly his sinker is terrific. Opponents are hitting just .200 with a .323 slugging percentage. His splitter is even better. Opponents are hitting just .103, slugging .138.

And per James Wagner of The Washington Post, Haren recently became just the 13th pitcher in baseball history to defeat all 30 teams. So clearly he can be consistently dominant.

One team that should vie for him is Atlanta. While I think it’s unlikely that Washington—which probably doesn’t consider itself out of the playoff hunt despite being 9.5 games back in the wild-card race—would trade Haren to a division rival, the Braves could use an ace-type in their rotation.

If Atlanta wants to contend against the Los Angeles Dodgers and their big three in Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Braves should at least try for Haren.

While the Rangers might look to get rid of Andrus, they could be thinking about bringing Haren back to the AL West, according to Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News.

Haren will be a free agent after the 2013 season, so unlike Andrus, he’d just be a rental and a fairly economical signing.



Barry Zito

Zito does not have a lot working in his favor right now.

Why is he dangerous? Why isn’t he dangerous is the better question.

Let’s start with the most obvious factors. He’s 35. He has a 5.34 ERA and by far the worst WHIP of his career (1.693). His numbers on the road are nauseating: a 9.45 ERA and a 2.30 WHIP. Which means he can only pitch (kind of) in San Francisco.

Then there’s the money issue. Danny Knobler of CBS Sports mentioned on August 14 that the southpaw “makes $20 million this season, with a $7 million buyout coming, so it’s no surprise at all that he cleared waivers.

Justin Gallagher, the sports editor for the San Juan Star, sums up the interest in Zito nicely in two tweets:

The Giants just booted Zito from their rotation. They clearly have no tie to him. While he has some postseason success, he’d be a risky pickup for anyone.

ESPN The Magazine’s Tim Keown argued that Zito “turned his career around” in 2012, so maybe there’s something left in his tank. If so, it must be a cavernous tank with some very good hiding spots.

If the Braves don’t try for Haren—or the still less risky Erik Bedard, who also just cleared waiversthey could go for Zito with a lot of blind faith. Devin Pangaro of Swingin‘ A’s wrote that while “there’s been no credible link to any true Athletics interest in Zito,” a reunion could be in order with the right deal.

At this point, Zito hasn’t proved that he can pitch anywhere other than at AT&T Park. And the mediocre Giants don’t even want him in the rotation. I don’t think he’s going anywhere.


Placido Polanco

Polanco is a career .297 hitter and has the potential to help out a team like Atlanta. The Braves fail at hitting for average and just announced that infielder Tyler Pastornicky needs season-ending ACL surgery. Polanco would be great off the bench and is flexible positionally and in the batting order.

He also happens to be injury prone, which is why I’ve labeled him a risk.

It seemed like he was never on the field for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012, and back issues have continued this year. Tony Verduci of SB Nation wrote in November 2012 that Polanco “has very little value as a starter at this stage of his career, with his his age, injury concerns and slower bat.”

Like Zito’s case, the prospect of a trade has only prompted humor:

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San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt, Sandoval and the Final Days of Barry Zito

All season long, through the early good times and the recent bad-to-terrible times, I’ve implored San Francisco Giants fans—loyal and capricious alike—to stay on the ship. There is no worse non-criminal life form than the bandwagon fan—but the raging, pessimistic fan ranks a close second. (I call them “Quaids.” If you’ve seen the old Charlie Sheen movie Major League, you get the reference. But I’m not here to talk about the past.)

Even ardent fans will eventually reach a point of attrition, given enough exposure to shoddy, uninspired play unworthy of fan support. I reached mine when the Giants blew three winnable home games against a lousy Chicago Cubs team two weeks ago. Not because the Giants were losing—I’d never turn my back on my teams strictly based on losses. 

It was how they were losing. Walks, baserunning blunders, repeated failures to bring home men from second base with zero out—I wasn’t watching what I felt was major league baseball. I think most fans can tolerate (not accept) losing to a degree if the team is focused, playing hard, playing smart and aware of the situations they’re presented with. For a while, the Giants came up way short in all but the effort categories.

Since that Cubs debacle, San Francisco has played better—though far from superlative—baseball (not that it could have gotten much worse, but still). 

They kicked off a six-game trip taking two-of-three from the Philadelphia Phillies. Granted, it was a Phillies team minus Domonic Brown, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee (with Lee rumored to be held out of action as a 7/31 trade candidate, though he was officially resting a “stiff neck” as reported by CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa). One could argue the latter trio’s absence as addition by subtraction when you recall how SF schooled them in the 2010 playoffs, however.

On that trip, Brandon Belt got his swing back. All it took was a minor grip adjustment and some pressure by a rejuvenated Brett Pill to unleash the player who tore through the Pacific Coast and Arizona Fall Leagues, as well as the 2013 Cactus League.

After being benched in Philly, Belt went a hard 3-for-4 with a homer at Tampa in his return to the starting lineup. He next lit up the Brewers and Orioles in San Francisco to the tune of 11-for-25—many to the long-ignored opposite field—with two home runs, three doubles (all smoked) and five RBI. In fact, Belt has driven in five of the Giants’ past 11 runs and (excluding the two homers) scored three others.

Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum both re-discovered their ace stuff; in fact, as a whole, the entire starting staff has been dealing as of late. Since July 30 (Barry Zito‘s final start to date), The Freak and friends have thrown six or more innings in 10 of 12 starts and allowed a composite 20 runs in those 12 starts.

For their efforts, Giants starters own only a 4-2 record over that period—while they’re not being saddled with an excess of undeserved losses, they’re not being rewarded with enough wins (although the G’Men did a great job salvaging Cain’s eight strong innings with a late comeback off Philadelphia’s Jon Papelbon August 1.)

Though he’s fallen into a slump, Panda Sandoval continues to exercise better selectivity at the plate ever since his embarrassing flail at a pitch that went through his legs on July 3 at Cincy. Sandoval is never going to be Ted Williams or Barry Bonds in terms of condensing the strike zone, and no one is asking him to be. The guy can beat a “bad” ball with the best of ’em—Pablo’s productivity would suffer if his approach turned passive.

That said, not even he can do anything with a pitch headed straight for him—or a pitch thrown 58 feet. Or a pitch closer to a pitchout than a strike. Sandoval’s cold right now, but for the most part, he’s getting off good swings and not getting himself out—unlike his June cold snap coming off the injured list.

Some of Sandoval’s more impressive “takes” of late include:                

  • a nasty 0-2 changeup from Phillie Antonio Bastardo on July 30 
  • a tempting Wily Peralta (Brewers) 2-2 curve on August 6
  • two back-foot breaking balls (from Milwaukee’s Jon Hand August 8 and Baltimore’s Bud Norris August 11, respectively) nearly identical to the July 3 leg-splitter

…among others he would usually pounce on.

Those unfamiliar with Sandoval won’t be impressed at a sixth-year major league hitter exercising dish discipline on its face, but what you must understand: Panda laying off dirt-dusters and third-eye heaters is no different than a crook returning a dropped wallet to the police station fully intact—it goes against everything that comes naturally to him. This is what makes Pablo’s batting slump so mystifying, but I’m confident he’ll wrap 2013 strong.

Zito predictably lost his rotation spot after the aforementioned loss in Philadelphia that left him with the following home/road splits (as a starter): 4-1. 2.45 ERA/0-7, 9.50 ERA (with a WHIP approaching 2.4, twice that of his home WHIP). And that doesn’t even include the eight road unearned runs.

This is the final year of Zito’s infamous seven-year contract; even with up to three rotation holes to fill at season’s end, there’s just no way a 36-year-old Zito with his 83-mph-and-dipping “fastball” returns in ’14 even on a Triple-A deal. I’ve defended and supported Zito for years, but even I have to admit that at this point…I’m not sure he’s a MLB pitcher anymore.

His curve is still filthy. His slider and changeup can be effective. But his command has never been worse, which is saying something since even in his outstanding Oakland years, Zito routinely finished among league leaders in walks and ran up high pitch counts. When going well, Zito can often escape jams and hitter’s counts with one of his off-speed pitches. When he can’t command them…you’re left with June-August 2013.

True, he’s had effective starts this year. So did Jamie Moyer in 2012. So did David Wells in 2007. So did Kirk Rueter in 2005.

Given the contempt in which Giants fans held the under-performing Zito in the first half of his tenure and how he earned their respect (if not admiration) with two clutch playoff starts in 2012, it’s fair to say Giants fans—at least the more astute ones—pulled for Barry to turn in a decent year on his way out of town, and for a while he obliged.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear he will go out strong, but Zito’s contribution to the 2012 champs along with his work ethic, stand-up attitude and exemplary representation of the Orange and Black inside and outside the lines over these last seven years should be loudly acknowledged at any future reunions.

After a much-needed off-day, the Giants take on a Nationals team that’s arguably the only one more disappointing than they in 2013. Though a combined 16 games under .500 and 29.5 games out of first place, these franchises do have something to play for. The star-studded series should be entertaining if nothing else. Thanks for reading and go, Giants!

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Pablo Sandoval’s DL Trip Must Wake Up Giants’ Underperforming Pitching Staff

The San Francisco Giants pitching staff is officially being put on notice—step up your game.

Pablo Sandoval has gone on the disabled list, reports Mercury News, meaning there’s a hole in the middle of the lineup.

While guys like Hunter Pence and Buster Posey are still in the middle of the lineup, it’s time for the pitchers to stop depending on the offense to score a lot of runs. It’s time for them to live up to their hype.

In 2013, they’ve been anything but what we saw in 2012.

The Stats

The starting rotation ranks 25th with 26 quality starts, with only 21 of 33 wins coming from the rotation. And that’s not the only problem. They are 24th in ERA (4.75), have no complete games or shutouts, and have walked 132 batters.

The offense has given them 4.3 runs of support per game, yet they still struggle to finish the job.

In fact, it’s been the relief corps who has gotten the job done with a 2.83 ERA, which ranks second in baseball.

The supposed ace, Matt Cain, is 4-3 with a 5.09 ERA and 75 strikeouts. Only seven of his 13 starts have been quality, and that’s the highest number for a Giants pitcher.

Then there’s Tim Lincecum, who has fallen off the map the last two years. Lincecum is currently 4-5 with a 4.75 ERA and 74 strikeouts. Only four of his 12 starts have been quality.

Should I continue?

The best of the bunch has been Madison Bumgarner with a record of 5-4, a 3.58 ERA and 79 strikeouts.

Then there’s Ryan Vogelsong, who has been good for the Giants over the last two years. He only has one quality start to his credit and has a 7.09 ERA.

It’s not pretty for the Giants rotation.


What’s Gone

With the loss of Sandoval, the Giants lose a guy who has been key in the No. 3 hole and one who has been clutch with runners in scoring position.

When runners are on second or third, Sandoval is batting .377 with three home runs and 30 RBI. With two outs, he’s destroying pitches even more with a .500 average.

Needless to say, the Giants are losing a lot with Sandoval out of the lineup.

San Francisco has lost seven of its last 12, giving up almost six runs a game in each of those losses. In the five wins, the Giants have scored 27 runs, while only giving up 12.


Seeds of Greatness

Seeds of greatness are there, but it needs to be more consistent.

The starters can’t depend on the offense to get them out of jams.

There’s a reason why the Giants gave Cain an eight-year, $139.75-million contract before the 2012 season.

He needs to start pitching like the team’s ace. He needs to pitch like he did in 2012, when he showed he was worth the money.

As far as Lincecum, he’s in a contract year. That should be enough motivation.

And if Zito wants to get even a decent contract next year, he has to improve as well.

There’s a lot in this rotation, and they’ve proven it before. But it’s just not showing this year.

Hopefully, the pitching staff gets woken up by a good bat being on the disabled list. They need to stop depending on the offense and start pitching like the all-stars they are.

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Barry Zito: Breaking Down Why He Has Lived Up to His Lucrative Contract

Before the 2012 season, San Francisco Giants fans cringed when they heard Barry Zito’s name.
Now, the former AL Cy Young winner brings fond memories of a season-saving masterpiece, a mind-boggling streak of 15 consecutive wins, the honors of throwing the first World Series pitch and the honors of beating Justin Verlander to jump-start a four-game World Series sweep of the mighty Detroit Tigers.

Barry Zito redeemed himself during the 2012 season after five sub-par years chock full of boos, as he won a remarkable 15 games and propelled the Giants to wins in his last 14 starts of 2012 (he extended that streak to 15 games in his first start of 2013). Zito turned in a huge start with the season on the line in St. Louis, throwing seven and two-thirds scoreless innings and stifling a powerful Cardinal lineup.

Then, Zito took the ball in Game 1 of the World Series, and he had to face the unstoppable Verlander, who went 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA in a down year. Verlander, however, struggled, as Pablo Sandoval hit two home runs off of him and Zito even chipped in with an RBI single.

Oh, and Zito also twirled a nice start, throwing five and two-thirds strong innings and earning the crucial win.

Without Zito, the Giants wouldn’t have won the World Series, and obviously, the World Series is extremely important. Going 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA is never easy, and doing that in the postseason against three prolific offenses is definitely impressive.

Another impressive feat accomplished by Zito is that he hasn’t allowed more than three runs in his last nine starts (including the postseason), which is also incredible. It speaks to how valuable and consistent Zito has been, which is something Giants fans aren’t exactly used to seeing. Zito came out firing again in 2013, keeping the ball away from the heart of the plate (which he has done a great job with), avoiding walks and getting key outs when needed.

The result? Seven brilliant shutout innings and another win.

There’s no doubt Zito has been valuable and there’s no doubt that he helped the Giants win the World Series, as he learned from missing the 2010 postseason roster (because he lost 14 games and was easily the Giants’ worst starting pitcher). However, most people believe that he hasn’t lived up to his contract that most believe Zito never should have received.

Zito was paid $126 million over seven years during the 2006 offseason, and he will be a Giant again in 2014 if he can log 200 innings, or six and two-thirds innings per start for 30 starts. While Zito has proven to be valuable, paying $126 million for any player over any period of time is always a gamble, and it didn’t help that Zito did very little in his first five years with the Giants.

However, the fact remains that even if the Giants had another good pitcher in the rotation instead of Zito, they wouldn’t have won the World Series. In 2007 and 2008, the Giants were awful, as they were well below .500 in both years. In 2009, the Giants were 88-74, but they were still virtually out of playoff contention with a week left in the season.

In 2011, the Giants were eliminated from the NL West race with 11 days left in the season, and they were a few games back of both the Cardinals and the Braves in the Wild Card race. However, the Giants never really had a chance then without star catcher Buster Posey and with the injury bug attacking in so many ways.

Zito still won some games in 2010, and the Giants still came up triumphant then. So, Zito really shouldn’t be taking much blame for being left off the 2010 playoff roster, especially after his 2012 success. He never cost the Giants in terms of production, and he helped them win the championship in 2012.

This money is invested in players in hopes of a championship. With Zito, the Giants have won championships in 40 percent of his years. When you consider that there are 30 teams in the MLB, winning the championship 40 percent of the time is impressive (in any period of time).

Zito is also bound to do more in 2013, judging from his 2012 success, positive attitude and first start. He is pitching almost as well as he did when he won the 2002 Cy Young, and he has been absolutely remarkable lately. With Tim Lincecum pitching far from flawlessly, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain coming off of bad starts and Madison Bumgarner fresh off some bad 2012 outings, the Giants need Zito.

San Francisco’s $126 million man has proven that he can step up in big situations and pitch like the guy that won the Cy Young award. Zito’s contract has garnered boatloads of criticism during his tenure in San Francisco, but the bottom line is that Zito is a good pitcher who is finally pitching like one. He tightened the break on his curveball and has improved his location, and that has contributed to his recent success.

And his recent success has made Zito’s contract completely worth it for the Giants.

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San Francisco Giants: Takeaways from Barry Zito’s First Start of 2013

Barry Zito seems to have discovered a dominance over the St. Louis Cardinals recently.

The last time Zito took the mound against St. Louis, the San Francisco Giants were in dire straights. Giants fans will remember that game.  It was game five of the 2012 National League Championship Series against the Cardinals where the Giants found themselves trailing St. Louis three games to one. 

On the road for game five, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Cardinals would beat up on the Giants’ lefty who had received so much criticism after signing a seven-year, $126 million contract in 2007.  The Cardinals were the hot team.  The Giants were not.

Yet Zito’s performance during game five was nothing short of incredible.  He pitched 7.2 innings of shutout baseball against the Cardinals and even contributed at the plate (mercurynews.com).  The Giants then soared after the must-win game, eventually going on to defeat St. Louis in seven games and moving on to win the 2012 World Series.

The lynch-pin of the Giants’ success in the playoffs was Zito.

Thus, it only seemed fitting that Zito would take the mound against the Cardinals yesterday during the Giants’ home opener.  The last time he saw the Cardinals, he dominated them and gave the Giants hope to keep their postseason dreams alive.  This time, he picked up right where he left off against a team he shut down a season ago, giving the Giants more hope that 2013 will be just as special.

Following the Giants’ opening day ceremonies, Zito took the mound amidst a roar of cheers from Giants fans who, not so long ago, chastised him.  It was another moment of redemption for the veteran.

The Cardinals looked just as baffled by Zito’s pitching as they did during the NLCS last year.  Zito shut out St. Louis, looking strong over seven innings.  He allowed only three hits while walking two and striking out four (cbssports.com).

Zito ran into some trouble during the top half of the seventh inning when St. Louis put two runners on base with two outs.  Yet Zito was able to retire Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma on a fly ball to center to end the inning.  He finished the game with 102 pitches on the day.  Zito then departed to another tremendous ovation, one of which he has been getting used to lately.

The Giants went on to beat the Cardinals 1-0, giving Zito his first win of the young season.(cbssports.com).

What this means for the Giants is hard to determine, but signs have to be good. 

Zito was ready for the start despite all of the festivities that preceded the Giants’ home opener.

He stated:

I would like to stay focused on what I have to do and my process and not get caught up too much in the festivities.  It’s going to be great for the fans, obviously.  That’s for them to enjoy.  But for us, we have to focus on our tasks. (via mlb.com)

That is a great attitude for a veteran pitcher to have, especially after enduring a tenure with a team that included so many lows.  Yet for the Giants, Zito has become somewhat of a good-luck charm as they have now won 15 games in a row in which he has started, including the 2012 postseason (mlb.com).  That streak will undoubtedly end at some point, but a solid start including the win is a major plus for Zito and the rest of the Giants rotation.

Zito’s resurgence has not gone unnoticed by his Giants teammates.

Right fielder Hunter Pence praised Zito by saying:

Pitching is about deception, and he’s got a lot of deception.  He’s really smart out there and doesn’t give you good pitches to hit.  Even his strikes are tough to hit.  You think you’re seeing a cutter out of his hand and it’s really the fastball down the middle.  And if you protect too much against the cutter, he’ll go back outside. (via mercurynews.com)

Hopefully, this start is an indication that Zito will emulate more of the 15-8 season he enjoyed last year and avoid the types of seasons he had in San Francisco years prior.  If he can, the Giants pitching staff will be all that much better. 

It is hard to tell after one start, but a start like this one is always a good thing.

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San Francisco Giants: 4 Battles Within the Team to Watch for in Spring Training

For the second time in three years, the San Francisco Giants will enter spring training with the feeling of being World Series champions. 

However, there are still some questions that need to be answered and some concerns about the defending champions.

Tim Lincecum and Hunter Pence were among the players who struggled last year, and while they both stepped up in the playoffs to help the Giants win the World Series, both have a lot to prove in 2013. While the Giants didn’t make any major offseason moves, they gave out a lot of minor-league deals.

What does that mean? Every player who received one of those miniature contracts has a lot to prove in spring training.

Here are four battles within the team to watch for in 2013.

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