Zito's three-month winless stretch is 'most challenging' time

Zito's three-month winless stretch is 'most challenging' time
September 2, 2013, 5:15 pm
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Barry Zito has a 10.00 ERA and .412 opponent’s average in 11 starts away from AT&T Park this season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Barry Zito called his current stretch this season his most challenging since 2008. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

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SAN DIEGO – The Giants will need to trim two players from the 40-man roster on Wednesday to clear space for some of their September call-ups.

And Barry Zito looks more trimmable than a Noble fir the day after Thanksgiving.

But Zito will remain on the roster, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. He’ll survive the cut, even though his usefulness with the club has reached its end. And that means he will make it to the end of the guaranteed portion of that seven-year, $126 million contract he had tattooed on his forehead so long ago.

[RELATED: Zito lasts just four innings, Giants lose 4-1]

There were many times when speculation built that the club would be ready to go sunk-cost mode on Zito. One stunning victory in Game 5 of the NLCS at St. Louis, and another in Game 1 of the World Series, showed that any action of that sort would’ve been premature.

Zito always will have those two victories to stand as his legacy as a Giant, at least equal to if not surpassing the notoriety of one of the worst contracts in baseball history.

But soon, the last major vestige of the Peter Magowan era will be off the roster. Unless somebody hits the wrong button, the Giants will decline Zito’s $18 million option for next season and give him a $7 million buyout.

Just a few months ago, it seemed possible – likely, even – that the Giants might re-sign Zito for less money.

But his tenure is not ending well. He has just one winning decision out of his last 20 starts, and that came on May 30. The Giants fell to 0-11 in Zito’s starts away from AT&T Park this season, after he pitched poorly in a 4-1 loss to the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on Monday. 

He has a 10.00 ERA and .412 opponent’s average in 11 starts away from AT&T Park.

It hasn’t been easy for anyone to watch – including the coaches who keep running him out there, hoping for one last reason to hand him a souvenir baseball and a lineup card.

“We pull for him, believe me,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “I can’t tell you how much we pull for him. He’s a good teammate. What he did for us last year, you hate to see him go through this. 

“One thing about Barry: I know the results haven’t been good, but he’s all-in in his preparation and his effort. It’s just been a rough go, especially on the road.”

Zito called this current stretch his most challenging since 2008, when he began that year 0-8 with a 6.25 ERA in nine starts.

“But it got better after the All-Star break,” said Zito, who gave up four runs in four innings, made an 0-2 mistake to the No.8 hitter with two outs, then walked the pitcher. “I come out and keep a positive attitude. Certainly, it’s the most challenging time, yeah.”

Even being left off the 2010 playoff roster – a humbling experience for a one-time Cy Young Award winner – doesn’t measure up to what’s happening now.

“The end of ’10 was tough because I was putting a lot of pressure on myself,” he said. “I was trying to control things I couldn’t control. This hasn’t been as dire a situation, but the numbers aren’t good. I recognize that.”

But since Zito will be a Giant to the end this season, perhaps he’ll be able to squeak out one clean victory at home, and give the fans an opportunity to recognize him for the times worth remembering.

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