Zito is back to being Problem A in Giants rotation

Kruk & Kuip: 'The Giants took one on the chin'

Zito is back to being Problem A in Giants rotation
July 14, 2013, 5:45 pm
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Barry Zito has a 9.89 ERA and the Giants are 0-8 in his starts away from AT&T Park this season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

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SAN DIEGO – The Giants need a lot of variables to break their way if they hope to turn a 43-51 record at the All-Star break into a meaningful pennant stretch.

Above all, though, they need stability, quality and consistency from their rotation. They are no longer dominant enough to absorb a weak link – and they cannot abide one of their starting five being totally incapable of pitching on the road.

Barry Zito’s heroics in the postseason last October won’t be forgotten or erased. But he is back to being the registered-trademark Problem with a capital-P in the Giants rotation – especially on the road, where he has a 9.89 ERA. The Giants are 0-8 in his starts away from AT&T Park this season after a 10-1 loss to the San Diego Padres on Sunday at Petco Park.

[Instant Replay: Giants suffer 10-1 loss to Padres in first-half finale]

A day after Giants manager Bruce Bochy let Tim Lincecum throw 148 pitches in his no-hitter, he had his fill of Zito after just 41. The left-hander allowed three home runs and got the hook after issuing a leadoff walk in the third.

[RELATED: No ice for Lincecum, but chills aplenty day after no-no]

“Z, he was off,” Bochy said. “I know he wanted to be out there but he’s had a tough time on the road. Some things are hard to explain. We don’t know why. But he’s pitched some big games for us. We haven’t forgotten that.”

He’ll need to pitch more of them, or the Giants will find an alternative.

Bochy revealed his tentative rotation out of the break, saying he’d have Chad Gaudin start Friday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, followed by Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.

Bumgarner gets the extra rest because even if he doesn’t appear in the All-Star Game – and he’ll be held back to use as a long man, Bochy said – all the travel would leave him fatigued.

Lincecum would pitch July 22 when the Giants begin a series against the Cincinnati Reds, giving him eight days of rest after throwing the most pitches by a Giant since Vida Blue in 1979.

The following day is a doubleheader. Bochy’s current plan is to throw Zito and Mike Kickham, which has the makings of a yoke-and-whip day for the Giants bullpen.

There’s a delicious wrinkle in there. Because the first game will be a makeup of the July 4 rainout at Great American Ball Park, the Reds will wear home uniforms and bat second. The Giants will be the road team.

Can Zito win a road game at AT&T Park? Or would the Giants pitch him in the second game, to be safe? Bochy has a couple of cross-country flights to let his noodle bake over that one.

 

I asked Bochy: Has he entertained any out-of-the-box thoughts with the staff about rigging the rotation to keep Zito away from pitching on the road in the second half?

The answer: Yes, to an extent.

“With (Ryan) Vogelsong down, it’s tough to do,” Bochy said. “You’d like to think you can tweak things at times to help a guy out, but you need all five starters. Until you get Vogey back, you can’t really tweak it.”

That raises an interesting point. The Giants could go until Aug. 3 at Tampa Bay before they’d need Zito to start on the road. It’s possible Vogelsong could be ready by then, considering he’s already thrown twice off a mound and his fractured pinky finger hasn’t bothered him. Or it’s possible, if the Giants play well on their next homestand, that GM Brian Sabean could swing a trade for a starting pitcher.

Even at his lowest points, though, Zito has shown himself capable of a Lazarus act. Don’t forget that the Giants went 11-0 in his final 11 regular-season starts last year.

This much is clear: After his short start Sunday, it’s going from unlikely to impossible that Zito will throw the 200 innings necessary to vest his $18 million club option for next season. Assuming he doesn’t miss a turn, he’d have 13 starts remaining – and he’d need to average almost 7 2/3 innings in them. (He is averaging just more than 5 1/3 innings per start thus far.)

Zito does have a $7 million buyout, and he has stated his desire to return. No question, these next couple months will determine whether he’s a Giant beyond this year – or even makes it to the end of the regular season.

As for his road struggles, he still doesn’t have an answer for them.

“It’s really not an issue,” he said. “I know that’s what the numbers are saying, but for me, I’m not adding it up like that.”

So what was the issue against the Padres?

“Today my concentration wasn’t where it should have been,” he said. “Too many pitches were in the middle of the plate. The three home runs were an indication of that.”

Why was his concentration lacking?

“When I’m at my best, I’m really pitch to pitch,” Zito said. “The times I scuffle, I’m just getting out of the moment a little bit.”

Zito didn’t take issue with Bochy’s quick hook.

“I support his decision,” he said. “I’ve got to be better out here and I’ve got to have my concentration where it should be.”

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