SAN FRANCISCO Some might argue Justin Verlander vs. Barry Zito in Game 1 is a mismatch. Onone side, you have a flamethrower that is the reigning American League MVP andwinner of the pitching Triple Crown in 2011. On the other side, you have asoft-throwing southpaw that hasnt posted an ERA under 4.00 since 2006, when hewas an Oakland Athletic.But while the Giants roster has combined to go 12-for-57 for a .211 careeraverage against Verlander, the Tigers have been even worse against Zito. Manyof Detroits players havent faced Zito sincehis Oaklanddays, but the Tigers collective career average against Zito is .190, with just16 hits in 84 at-bats.After facing their fare share of pitchers with overpowering fastballs on theirway to the World Series, the Tigers must now prepare for a crafty veteran whois still getting big leaguers out without topping 86 miles per hour on theradar gun.We face guys throwing his speed all year, said ALCS MVP Delmon Young, who is2-for-3 with a double facing Zito in his career. Its just baseball. If itsover the plate and you think you can drive it, you take a swing at it. Velocitycan throw you off with offspeed pitches, but if you just keep a simplerapproach, you should have a successful day at least making contact. The Cardinals were just as confident heading into Game 5 of the NLCS, but Zitokept the Giants season alive by keeping St. Louis off the board for 7.2innings. He struck out six in that start and the Tigers plan on closelyexamining that outing and previous ones to put together a gameplan for theWorld Series opener.You have to go over film, said Gerald Laird, who has three hits in 15 at-batsagainst Zito. I got a chance to face him a little bit last year and hes kindof the same guy, but obviously hes added a couple more pitches and his commandhas gotten a lot better. Hes had to change a little bit from the Oakland dayssince his velocity is not there like it used to be, but hes still a greatpitcher.What makes him a great pitcher?Hes one of those guys where you cant do too much withhim, Laird said. You cant try and pull him because hes a guy thatll make apitch away and get you to roll over or pop you inside when youre looking forsomething else. So hes one of those guys where you have to stay up the middleof the field and not try to do too much because hes a pitcher, he knows whathes doing and he knows how to get outs.Austin Jackson, the man who will likely see the first pitch of the World Seriesas Detroits leadoff man, said that Zitos slower pitches end up working in hisfavor.When somebodys throwing not as hard, you try not to pullhim, said Jackson, who is hitless in two at-bats but owns a walk against Zito. I think thats a main focus. When somebodys not throwing as hard,everybody wants to crush it and they end up getting themselves out.So how will Jacksonprepare in order to not get himself out?I think first thing, you definitely have to look at some film and what hesdone to guys similar, other leadoff hitters, Jackson said. Maybe see how he pitchesearlier in counts and how he pitches later in counts.In Zitos last start in St. Louis,his cutter was his bread and butter pitch early before he turned to thebreaking ball in the later innings. Laird said the cutter is tough to lay offbecause its so enticing out of Zitos hand.I was watching the last series, hes got the little cutter and the fastball at84 that you cant be too anxious, Laird said. The funny thing is he knows howto pitch with it. He elevates it, he sinks it, he throws it down and in, hechanges your eye level, he changes speed and hes crafty.Laird said he would tell his teammates to not get too pull-happy against Zito.I tell the guys, you got to go up there with a gameplan and not leave itbecause as soon as you leave your gameplan and try to yank him, hes going tomake a pitch and get you out.Verlander, who requires a much different gameplan, recalled the Zito ofyesteryear.The main thing I remember from Zito was his curveball,Verlander said.I think I was probably in college watching a game of his,and his curveball was just unbelievable, and he still has a good curveball. Butthat thing back when he was with Oaklandwas just unreal, and I hope not to see it.Young, who worked out with his fellow Southern California native over theoffseason following the Giants 2010 World Series win, said he was happy to seeZito bounce back from being left off the postseason roster during that run.He was happy he won a World Series and everything, but hewanted to make sure he could actually contribute so he worked his butt off. Nowhes earned what he wanted. Im happy for him. Barrys back where he used tobe.
DENVER — Bruce Bochy watched the first two games of this road trip from his home in San Diego and the final three from the top step of the dugout at Coors Field. He did not like what he saw, but at the moment he’s more concerned with what he might hear.
“What you have to careful of — you can’t let any kind of complacency set in and say, ‘It’s early, we’ll be ok.’ I don’t want to hear that either,” Bochy said. “It’s the old adage that you come out with some sense of urgency. All these games are important. You’ve got to stay away from that attitude, too: ‘We’re not through April yet and have 140-something games left.’ That doesn’t work out.”
Three weeks into the season, nothing is working. The rotation has a 5.02 ERA, the worst in the Majors. The lineup scored 10 runs over a five-game road trip and got shut out twice. The bullpen hasn’t been given many leads with which to make up for the first-week trouble. The defense has been uncharacteristically sloppy.
It has added up to a 6-13 start, tied for the worst in club history. The Giants have lost six of seven and they’ll head home seven games out of first place.
“Right now there’s nothing clicking,” Bochy said. “Let’s be honest, this has been a rough start and we’re not very good right now. I’m not saying we’re not very good. We are good, but we’ve got to find a way to come out of this. This was a tough way to end this series. We’ve been through it. I’ve got men out there and that’s when you find a way to get through this. They will.”
Perhaps Monday will bring some fresh blood for the roster. Drew Stubbs appears poised to give the Giants another veteran option should they cut bait with a struggling outfielder. Michael Morse could be an option in left field soon, and if he’s mostly relegated to first, the Giants can put Brandon Belt in the outfield. He looked fine there Sunday while playing both corner spots.
Those are moves made around the edges of the roster, though. There is no magic bullet coming from the outside, not even Christian Arroyo, who continues to mash at Triple-A. This is a $200 million roster and much of that has been spent on the rotation. Through 13 games, it is the worst in the National League, and the ace was lost to an off-field accident. Sure, the starters have pitched at Chase Field and Coors Field, but on back-to-back days they were dominated by Rockies rookies who make a living here.
Samardzija could not keep pace with left-hander Kyle Freeland, who sawed off a handful of bats while cruising through seven. Samardzjiza gave up a run early, two more in the fourth on a hanging splitter that was blasted to right, and five in the sixth.
Bochy challenged his starting staff to improve after Saturday’s game. He has not publicly done the same with the lineup, but subtle changes have been made here and there. It is a group that, outside of a couple of players, has lacked energy. Because they don’t hit for power, the Giants are reliant on stringing together rallies. For the fourth time in seven games, the lineup failed to put a runner on base the first time through the order.
“Even in spring training we had our games where we had trouble getting something going early,” Bochy said. “It’s the fourth or fifth before a hit. Somehow, we’ve got to change that.”
The Giants played Sunday without Jarrett Parker (clavicle) and Denard Span (right shoulder sprain), but for the most part the lineup is healthy. Bochy said he has talked to hitting coach Hensley Meulens about possibly altering pre-game routines, but that seems a cosmetic fix.
“We’ve talked and we’ve shaken up the lineup, but as you saw today, there’s only so much you can do,” he said.
Bochy knows there is outside noise regarding the roster. His eyes bulged the other day when asked if Arroyo would get a call-up next week. The Giants do not feel he is quite ready, or that there is a spot for him on the infield. For all the potential bench options waiting at Triple-A, this team's core is set, and it’s not outrageously banged-up compared to the rest of the division.
The Dodgers, who come into town Monday, have 10 players on the disabled list, including No. 2 starter Rich Hill, second baseman Logan Forsythe, and left fielder Andre Ethier. The Rockies, the best team in the NL West thus far, are off to this start without big offseason acquisition Ian Desmond and young slugger David Dahl. Jon Gray, their opening day starter, went on the DL after facing the Giants in San Francisco. Chad Bettis, a rotation member, is getting treatment for testicular cancer.
This division is better than expected, and as the end of April approaches, the Giants are bringing up the rear. Bochy’s plea for urgency was one that would have fit right in with last season’s second half. Back then, the Giants could at least lean on a huge start that got them into the postseason. As they flew home Sunday, there was nothing to fall back on but a simple truth.
This is the team. It must play better.
“We have everything we need in this room,” Samardzija said. “Sometimes you need to go out on the field and prove it.”
DENVER — Bruce Bochy spent about 10 minutes before Sunday’s game talking about potential options in left field and center. The problems for this lineup, however, currently go much deeper than the outfield.
A day after the Giants managed just four hits off Antonio Senzatela, the bats went completely limp against fellow Rockies rookie Kyle Freeland. The Giants were shut out 8-0, a rarity at Coors Field. They were blanked twice on the road trip and scored just 10 runs during a five-game swing through Kansas City and Denver.
The sweep at Coors Field was the Giants' first since 2002. At 6-13, they have the worst record in the National League.
For the fourth time in seven games, and third time on this five-game road trip, the Giants went one time through the order without a baserunner. That puts added pressure on your starter, and Jeff Samardzija couldn’t keep it close. Charlie Blackmon hit a leadoff liner to right that was misplayed into a triple and he scored on a sacrifice fly. Gerardo Parra got a spinner down in the zone in the fourth and blasted a two-run shot to right.
As they did Saturday night, the Rockies pulled away with a huge rally. Nolan Arenado’s infield single and a walk of Carlos Gonzalez set the table in the sixth. Gerardo Parra lined a single to center and all runners advanced when Gorkys Hernandez kicked it. Trevor Story’s single to right was bobbled by Hunter Pence and two more scored. Blackmon’s double made it 8-0.
Starting pitching report: Samardzija was charged with seven earned in 5 1/3 innings. He has a 7.40 ERA through four starts. The starting staff has a 5.02 ERA, the worst in the majors. That won’t play, not when you’ve spent most of your resources the last two years on starters.
Bullpen report: Hunter Strickland's Mullet had a scoreless debut.
At the plate: Nope.
In the field: Brandon Belt’s first start in left this season was rather uneventful. He caught a liner right at him in the first and came up inches short on a diving attempt in foul territory. Belt moved to right in the seventh inning. He had one previous inning there in the big leagues but he actually prefers right because it’s the same angle as his normal position. Belt gloved a liner right at him in the eighth.
Attendance: The Rockies announced a crowd of 42,011 human beings and one donkey, who was a menace.
Up next: The first look at the Dodgers. The Giants will see Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and likely Julio Urias in the four-game series.