Extra Baggs: Barry Zito's unreal road splits

Kruk & Kuip: 'Zito made a lot of mistakes and they jumped on him'

Extra Baggs: Barry Zito's unreal road splits
June 12, 2013, 9:30 pm
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"I’ve felt good some of these starts on the road and it just hasn’t worked out. There’s nothing more to it than that." -- Barry Zito (AP)

PITTSBURGH – You almost need scientific notation when handling Barry Zito’s numbers on the road. A hazmat suit wouldn't hurt, either.

He’s 0-4 with an 11.28 ERA in five road starts. He is 4-1 with a 1.94 ERA in eight home assignments. And he says there really isn’t any difference in how he’s pitched in gray compared to French vanilla.

“I don’t think it’s a `road this’ and ‘home that,’” said Zito, after the Pirates collected eight runs on 11 hits in his 4 2/3 innings during a 12-8 loss at PNC Park.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Zito rocked again on the road]

“It probably doesn’t look like it, but it’s more of a coincidence. When I’m catching breaks and the stuff is more down in the zone, it just happens that way. I’ve felt good some of these starts on the road and it just hasn’t worked out. There’s nothing more to it than that.”

Know what? He’s not far from the truth. At home, opposing hitters have a .255 average on balls in play (BABIP). That’s far enough below the NL average of .295 to suggest Zito has benefited from a sprinkling of luck.

On the road? Well, opponents have a .511 BABIP. It’s hard to fathom that’s even possible. Many of those hits were line drives. Some were bloops or bleeders. But if he’s been a tad lucky at home, he’s had quite a lot of bad mojo on the road.

That isn’t to suggest Zito has pitched well on the road. But he’s probably pitched a bit better than that 11.28 ERA in five starts would lead you to believe. That .432 average that opponents have against him on the road is pretty robust, too.

Usually crunching the numbers makes you smarter. Sometimes, the numbers are just stupid.

But leaving aside Zito for a moment, he’s not the chief reason the Giants lost again and fell to 4-12 in road games against non-NL West opponents.

The Giants offense, performing gamely without Pablo Sandoval, Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, managed to sustain rallies and score eight runs. If the bullpen had shut the door after Zito departed trailing 6-4, then this would’ve been one more of those lively, raucous, hair-whipping comeback victories.

But they didn’t have Chad Gaudin to stanch the bleeding. He’s in the rotation, taking Ryan Vogelsong’s spot. And while the Giants still have a great back end with Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo, those aren’t the guys that Bruce Bochy (or interim skipper Ron Wotus, in the case of Wednesday night) are in game situations to use.

They’re using guys like Ramon Ramirez, who is getting hammered, and they’ve been forced to run Jose Mijares out there in the early innings instead of saving him for a matchup later in the game.

Zito gave up 11 hits and eight runs and neither were season highs for him. He needed to find a way to get more outs and locate the bottom of the strike zone with his fastball. He didn’t, and that’s on him.

But if the Giants aren’t stretched by Vogelsong’s injury to put Gaudin in the rotation, they probably win this game anyway. (And if the Giants had another starter they felt good about, they might have Tim Lincecum in the bullpen, too.)

It’s just another illustration of how depth is so important to a franchise over a 162-game season. Right now, the Giants can’t get the matchups with Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres in a left field platoon because both have been playing in Pagan’s absence. With Sandoval on the DL, your No.5 hitter is Joaquin Arias and the lineup doesn’t seem nearly as long.

It’s obvious: this is a challenged team right now. Still two games over .500. But challenged.

But for all their injuries and runs in their stockings and places where their lack of depth is apparent, none of it compares to May 25, 2011. None of it feels as dire, as empty or as bone-crunching awful as the night when Buster Posey got taken out at home plate and lost for the season.

Yes, you can die of a thousand tiny cuts, too. But that was a shot to the heart.

So the Giants just have to move on with their current personnel – and hope Zito doesn’t get BABIPed as badly in his next road start.

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Zito’s next two starts are scheduled to come at home, by the way. So there’s that.

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Is it time for Heath Hembree?

I understand why the Giants have delayed promoting him. But the need is acute now. It’s a move that makes baseball sense.

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The key play in the fifth inning was the double play that wasn’t turned with the bases loaded, allowing the tiebreaking run to score. But it’s hard to fault any of the particulars involved.

First baseman Brandon Belt was screened by the runner and thought he caught Russell Martin’s hard shot. Barry Zito thought Belt did, too, which is why he took a step toward backing up the plate instead of covering first base.

“Weird situation,” Belt said. “The runner was right there, I was falling away and I didn’t have my eyes on it. I caught it clean, square in my glove. I thought I caught it. I looked at the replay and I still couldn’t tell.”

Belt threw to second base, thinking he had doubled off the runner to get out of the inning. When he realized the call was no catch, he held up his glove and complained to the umpire.

Said Belt: “If I knew it was on the ground, I’d definitely have gone home right there.”

Even so, if Zito had covered first base, the Giants would’ve been out of the inning.

“I thought it was in his glove,” Zito said. “After that, I realized it wasn’t. I thought he’d make the throw home and it kind of locked everybody up.”

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So much was written about Scutaro and his pinky finger that I almost forgot to ask Gregor Blanco if he was OK. He got struck by a pitch Tuesday night, too – a 97 mph fastball from Gerrit Cole in the ribs.

It didn’t hit him flush. But even glancing blows leave a mark when they’re 97 mph.

Blanco lifted his shirt to show three huge, padded bandages around his right ribs. He said he was turning bright purple, and it was sore, but he was OK to play.

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Lost amid the game was Juan Perez’s second outstanding defensive play in as many career starts in center field.

You’ve already seen his running, fence-smashing catch at Arizona, I trust. This time, he caught a fly ball in medium-deep (medium-well?) center field and unloaded a one-hop strike to third base to catch a surprised Jordy Mercer trying to tag up.

Wotus, who had to do the postgame media rigamarole in the suspended Bruce Bochy’s absence, already looked weary after answering a flurry of questions about Zito and the bullpen. So I figured I’d make the task at least a bit lighter for him. I asked him about Perez’s throw, and his eyes lit up.

“Great throw,” Wotus said. “I don’t think they realized what kind of arm he has. The great thing about it is he kept it low so the trail runner couldn’t advance.”

If Perez had aired out his throw, it would’ve been obvious that it would clear the cutoff man and the runner from first base could’ve moved up. The fact he kept it low, where Brandon Crawford could cut it off, if he so chose, meant the trail runner had to sit tight.

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Second baseman Tony Abreu provided some positives, too, with three hits and a career-high three runs scored in his first start as a Giant.

Wotus made a point that I hadn’t considered: Abreu hadn’t gotten many at-bats in his 20-game rehab assignment for Triple-A Fresno, and he’d only gotten a handful of them as a right-handed hitter. So to get those three hits right-handed – they came against three different lefty pitchers-- was a feat, indeed.

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Shane Loux provided the following update on his elbow surgery via Twitter: “Thanks to everyone for the thoughts, prayers and kind words today. Surgery went better than expected and I’m back at home. Thanks again.”

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