June 24, 2011
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Bad news from the Thing On King for those of you who are sick of the Whatever will we do with Barry Zito? snivel-fest: Jonathan Sanchez is making the choice easy.
In fact, the decision might already be made. Sanchez has no more starts before Zitos resurrection from the minor league crypt Tuesday, and if the lavlishly-rewarded left-hander has rediscovered his stroke, Bruce Bochy will be asked now about a brand new fascinating choice, to wit:
Can you use Zito in a four-man rotation?
It is a testament to how strangely over-covered the Giants often are that Zito, who is still a fifth starter candidate no matter what he makes or how we fetishize his return, has become Topic A on a postseason contender. Indeed, the discussion after the Giants manipulated a 4-3 win over AL Central leader Cleveland Friday night was mostly about . . . well, yes. That.
The reason? Sanchez, who was all over the place including the neighbors yard again. He lasted only 4 23 innings, with two hits, six walks and a hit-by of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo that broke the Indians best outfielders thumb and caused the promotion of former Athletic Travis Buck from AAA.
It was the second time in succession that he couldnt clear the fifth inning, and fourth time in five starts that he walked at least five hitters. This was not a Bumgarner-ian start, but it was anticipated by seemingly everyone in the ballpark, including (based on the always handy barometer of body language) Sanchez himself.
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You can see its affected his confidence, Bochy said. When asked to clarify if Sanchez demeanor on the mound, coming off the mound or in the dugout is the tip-off, Bochy added, Its all of the above. I can see its affecting him, hes lost a little of, I hate to use the word swagger, but he just doesnt have that confident feeling.
Indeed, he opened up the door to Sanchez demotion from the rotation wider than he has for any other pitcher at any other time, saying, Ill have to get with Dave Righetti (the pitching coach) when Im done with (the press conference), and then talk with Johnny tomorrow.
Thats Johnny, not Sanchy. Thats a demotion right there.
In short, Sanchez has become, for lack of a better phrase, the new Zito the pitcher who makes fans cringe at the very mention of his next start. And Zito has become a sort of fan favorite, in the same way that backup quarterbacks do; the less you see, the more you romanticize.
And right now, Zito is Denton True Young His Own Bad Self, while Sanchez has become . . . well, name a pitcher who gave you the heebie-jeebies when you were a kid, and add 20 percent.
Four days ago, Zito was mentioned as a potential replacement for Madison Bumgarner, who had a record-warpingly rancid outing against Minnesota. Bruce Bochy dismissed that as folly, because it was probably a one-off. Sanchez has now been an ongoing root canal for nearly a month now, and Bochy is going to seriously consider exchanging worrisome lefthanders because the one sees all the time worries him more than the one he hasnt seen in 70 days.
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Human nature. The tire fire you can smell is always worse than the chemical fire you watch on TV.
Now were not saying that Zito is doomed to fail when he returns in Tuesdays nightcap against Chicago. We cant say it, for like everyone else, we have no idea whether he has fixed what ailed him.
But he has been rendered annoying in absentia by all those who (a) loathed his starts when he was making them and then (b) started longing for them when he stopped.
And Sanchez, with all his allegedly electric stuff and hangdog looks at the end of every inning he pitches, good or bad, is now taking Zitos upper berth in the We Dont Like You Limited because he has been around and pitching.
Face it, fans are visual learners. They remember what they see more than what they are told.
So Zito is back, and contrary to the situation a month ago, there not only is room for him, there is elbow room for him. Nobody could have foreseen that even two weeks ago, let alone a month, and at that Bochy still isnt giving up the word. He has to . . . all together, boys and girls, in the key of C-flat . . . talk it over with Brian.
And the fact that Righetti and Sanchez will also be part of the discussion tree suggests that The Zito Problem has finally solved itself, as you knew it would. Not with a pronouncement from on high, but a baseball development that answered the questions Bochy had to duck.