PEORIA, Ariz. – The venue was the same. The results were night and day.
Barry Zito built to 84 pitches over five innings Tuesday night, and by any measure, it was a successful start. He kept spinning 70 mph curveballs in any and every count, striking out seven against just one walk.
The Seattle Mariners managed two runs against him, mostly because No. 9 hitter Nick Franklin proved a tough out. But with two more tuneups remaining, Zito looked ready for the April 5 home opener.
“My timing was definitely better,” Zito said. “That No. 9 hitter hit some good pitches, so I’ve got to tip my hat to him.”
At this time a year ago, Zito would’ve given himself tennis elbow if he tipped his hat to anyone who reached base against him. He got hit around something awful in his last two Cactus League starts, giving up 16 hits (10 extra-base hits) in 5 1/3 innings while walking five and striking out one.
Amid that rough spring, his last Cactus League outing came right here at Peoria Sports Complex, when he gave up five runs on seven hits (five for extra bases) and three walks in three innings. He faced 17 San Diego Padres batters in that game and retired just seven of them; two others were tagged out on the basepaths.
The difference: Zito isn’t tinkering this time. He’s a World Series hero and he’s secure in his stuff.
“Last year I was really kind of searching mechanically,” Zito said. “I was focused on getting my delivery down where now it’s about just finding the timing you had in the past. Certainly, my confidence is higher this year.”
His postseason success has a lot to do with that. Zito shut out the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLCS to force the series back to San Francisco. Then, in his first career World Series start, he beat Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers in Game 1.
That’s why Giants manager Bruce Bochy wasn’t wringing his hands over Zito as he entered this spring.
“He’s had a good spring, he has,” Bochy said. “He should be pleased.”
The entire rotation seems to be rounding into shape, although Tim Lincecum is a little bit behind both in terms of pitches and command. So the biggest question marks are pretty much in the same places as when this spring began.
Brandon Belt was 2 for 3 with an RBI double in the 6-3 loss to Seattle and is now at .420 this spring (21 for 50).
“He likes this Cactus League,” Bochy said. “I know that.”
Belt has played a lot, mostly out of necessity because the Giants don’t have many backup first basemen following Brett Pill’s knee surgery. They’ll be able to spell Belt with Buster Posey at first base during the season, but they sure as heck won’t load up Posey with exhibition innings just to spread the work around.
(In fact, Posey is scheduled to catch consecutive games for the first time Wednesday and Thursday.)
What makes Bochy believe Belt will be able to carry another solid spring into a better start when it matters?
“Well, you look at last year and the improvement he made as the year went along, and the confidence he got,” Bochy said. “With the second half and the postseason he had, that plays into it. It takes away a little of the unknown. It makes you confident he’s coming into his own.”
Chad Gaudin will start for the road split squad Wednesday in place of Yusmeiro Petit, who accepted his assignment to Triple-A Fresno after the Giants outrighted him off the 40-man roster.
Ryan Vogelsong takes the ball for the home split squad.
Looks like the Dodgers will skip Zack Greinke’s first turn through the rotation, which makes Chad Billingsley the most likely guy to line up against Madison Bumgarner in the second game of the season at Dodger Stadium. It’s Clayton Kershaw vs. Matt Cain in the opener, in case any reminders were necessary.
And by the way, Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez is going for an MRI after jamming his thumb in the WBC final.
Still nothing on Tony Abreu, whose knee has limited him to one game all spring. It’ll be at least a few more days till he might ramp up to getting in another exhibition.
Abreu is out of minor league options, but the Giants can always put him on the disabled list and then send him on a minor league rehab assignment. They’d like to figure out what they have, and Abreu hasn’t been able to show them anything yet.
Andres Torres drew two walks, stole a base and scored a run while batting leadoff. After a rough start to this spring, he’s having much better plate appearances. Bochy also likes what he’s seen the past two days from Gregor Blanco, who hadn’t made much of any hard contact this spring.
The Giants, privately, were getting very worried about that left field platoon. I wouldn’t say they’re satisfied with it, but they’re more hopeful than they were 48 hours ago.
Aside from David Wright and Michael Saunders, no hitter was hotter in the WBC than Angel Pagan. It’ll be interesting to see what his swing looks like when he gets folded back into the Giants lineup.
How about that Dominican bullpen – unscored upon in the WBC. Santiago Casilla was a big part of that, and he threw a scoreless eighth in the clincher. Casilla issued a walk to Pagan in the inning.
And while we're on the subject ... Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina have to be very sick of rainy nights at AT&T Park.