Urban: Zito reflective before a sharp rehab outing

June 7, 2011, 5:02 am
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June 6, 2011

STOCKTON -- The box score will show that Barry Zito put up a spectacular line: 6 23 innings, two hits, zero walks, six strikeouts, and a run that scored after he left with a runner on first and two out before the reliever gave up a walk and a single to let the inherited runner in.It'll also show that he was the winning pitcher for the San Jose Giants against the host Stockton Ports in his first rehab start Monday.Yet anyone who knows a thing about Zito's relationship with most San Francisco Giants fans knows that Monday was a no-win proposition if there ever were one.Dominate and the wisecracks come all too easy.
He's finally found his niche. In Single-A. Keep him there.If only he could face 20-year-olds every time out.For that kind of money, no way he should be giving up ANY hits in the minors.Lose, or pitch poorly, and it's the same chorus he's heard for the better part of his career in Orange & Black. What a bum.That's life for Zito, and to borrow Giants manager Bruce Bochy's current favorite phrase, he knows it.But a couple of hours before carving through the Ports on 82 pitches, Zito -- wearing shorts and a t-shirt while watching his young temporary teammates go through BP on the field below the bridge on which he stood at Banner Island Ballpark -- seemed at peace with the strange and uncertain place he finds his career these days."I'm fired up," he said. "This is going to be fun. I've missed pitching a ton, man. And this environment, where it's just baseball, none of the outside stuff, I love it."It showed. He didn't pitch mad, despite surely being aware that Bochy had the day before made it clear that Zito's rotation replacement "isn't going anywhere." He pitched with body language that reflected his pregame comments.His delivery was smooth, easy, crisp. Most of his pitches were on the black, and quite a few of them vintage curveballs. The Ports looked clueless most of the night; Zito faced one over the minimum thanks to a pair of double-play balls.His velocity was nothing to crow about; the stadium radar gun was clearly off, flashing 76 on a few fastballs, but it certainly wasn't 12 or 14 mph slow. One scout with his own gun said Zito's fastball sat between 84-86 most of the night, a slight improvement over what he was featuring before he sprained a ligament and landed on the disabled list on April 16.After the game Zito expressed very little interest in the gun, which at one point had one of his breaking balls at 54 mph.No, Zito has not developed an eephus pitch. The gun was just a little whacked out."It was showing some strange things up there," Zito said with a smile. "What it says isn't really a big deal to me, anyway. The ball felt great coming out of my hand and I knew where it was going. I've been working on some command things, so it was nice to see it working."He acknowledged that it was nice to get a standing ovation as he walked off the mound, too, but not because it provided what he calls a "dig-me moment."For in that moment, Vogelsong didn't matter. His standing with the Giants didn't matter. Where he heads next or for how long (no clue on either count, by the way) didn't matter, either.
"It was just a fun night," he said.
No matter what the hecklers are sure to say.

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