June 16, 2011
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FRESNO -- The final line was spoiled by the second-to-last batter he faced, one swing turning what would have been yet another quality rehab start into something that, by the numbers, looks less than impressive.Facing Triple-A hitters for the first time after twice toying with Single-A kids while working his way back to the big leagues (and from a foot injury), Giants left-hander Barry Zito on Thursday allowed four runs on five hits and two walks while striking out six over six innings for the host Fresno Grizzlies, who beat the Mariners' Tacoma affiliate by a cozy 8-4 margin.Zito got the win, and he got an appropriately loud ovation from the home fans as he walked off the mound after the top of the sixth inning. But if weren't at Chukchansi Park to see the outing as a whole, chances are you look at the line and scoff.There's a sizable contingent of Giants fans for whom anything less than sheer dominance goes down as nothing less than another Zito failure, and that Zito actually did dominate until Mike Wilson slammed a hide-the-children homer to left field with two out in the sixth surely means next to nothing to that contingent.URBAN: Giants' Zito and Ford rehab play-by-play
Typical Zito, the haters will say. Big deal, he won in the minors. He's still no more than a five-inning pitcher, even in the minors. Keep him there forever.The Giants can't keep him there forever, of course. The maximum number of days a player can spend on a rehab assignment is 30 days, after which the parent club has to make some sort of roster move regarding said player. Thursday was day 11, and the fact of the matter -- given his untradeable contract, which comes with complications that makes more time in the minors via the activate-and-option route all but impossible, and the insanity that would be eating the roughly 50 million still owed Zito via an outright release -- is that the only move the Giants can be reasonably expected to make with their star-crossed southpaw, whether it's after milking those final 19 days or prior to that, is to add him back to the active big-league roster.And if the current members of the big-league pitching staff continue to do what they've been doing of late, in the rotation and in the bullpen, whatever move they make to create space for Zito will make the haters hate even more.Zito, thoughtful and bright and reflective veteran that he is, knows this as well as anyone. He knows how well everyone is throwing and agreed that none of them deserve to be bumped. And he long ago accepted the reality that while there is a segment of the Giants fan base that respects his professionalism and pulls for him at all times, there's a far larger segment to whom he is and always will be Public Baseball Enemy No. 1.Yet he also long ago decided to stop sweating what he can't control."I'm just focusing on the day-to-day," he told CSNBayArea.com in the otherwise empty deserted Grizzlies clubhouse after leaving Thursday's game. "I'm just focusing on pitching and doing the best I can do out there on the mound."That's all he can do. That's the only thing he can control.Well, it's not the only thing he can control. Since his rehab assignment started, he's shown an ability to control his pitches better than he's been able to since his sizzling start to the 2010 championship season, and that's no small development. Zito has never been a power pitcher and never will be. He won the 2002 AL Cy Young because he had dirty stuff that he threw for strikes. He still has dirty stuff, and when he's throwing his fastball, curveball and changeup -- he's nixed the problematic slider, which he didn't throw in 2002, from his repertoire -- for strikes he puts together Cy-reminiscent outings such as the ones he strung together in the first month and a half of last year.The haters have conveniently forgotten about those outings, but Zito plans to freshen their memories."I'm enjoying pitching more than I have in a long time," he said Thursday. "This whole experience, being away from the big-league team, getting back to a place where it's just about going out and throwing a baseball -- without all the other things that we, as professional athletes, sometimes allow to get in our way or get us out of a comfort zone. I'm super excited about what this whole experience has meant for me."As for whether he'll get a shot at showing what it's meant in the Majors in a week or two or in 19 days, in the bullpen or the rotation, he frankly isn't giving it much thought."I'm seriously just pumped to pitch again, wherever it is," he said. "Bullpen, Fresno, San Fran, rotation. I'll do whatever they want. It's out of my hands."Having a ball in his hands is all that matters.