Is Barry Zito back?
One glance at his record (1-4), and you might assume it's business as usual for San Francisco's giant of a disappointment.
But if the Giants could, um, actually, maybe, score a few runs once in awhile, you might be surprised at what Zito's numbers would look like.
Heading into Sunday's start in Seattle against Felix Hernandez, Zito since April 22 has posted a 2.21 ERA, eighth-lowest in the National League. He's thrown quality starts (six innings or more, three runs or less) in five of his past six outings.
But he's backed by the worst run support in the NL -- the Giants are averaging just 1.94 runs a game when he's on the mound -- so the air essentially has been let out from the drama of any Zito comeback.
"I'm encouraged that I've gotten back to where I need to be," Zito told me the other day. "I'm pitching better than I have at this point in the season than I have since I've been a Giant."
The key, he says, is he's finally reached the point where he's not "babying" his pitches. He's zeroed in on being aggressive with each of his pitches -- including being intelligently aggressive with his changeup -- and "if you do that, somehow, hitters can't pick stuff up as well. If you have aggressive arm speed and you're loose and not babying stuff."
The former American League All-Star, who signed a seven-year, $126 million deal with San Francisco before the 2007 season, Zito says that he thinks part of his problem during his first two seasons with the Giants has been that he's spent more time attempting to "trick" hitters than simply pitching, and that's tempered his aggressiveness.
He seemed to bottom out last year when he went 10-17 with a career-worst 5.15 ERA. The bounce-back this year has included Zito lowering his ERA to 3.62 (from 10.00 following his first two starts).
His slider and curve again are breaking late, and his changeup looks like a fastball. It comes, he says, from a narrow focus on making sure he stays aggressive.
Following all the talk after he signed for all that dough that the monster contract wouldn't affect him, Zito now sounds a lot like a man who indeed has been affected by the pressure and was pitching not to lose instead of pitching to win.
"You start to try to protect things," Zito says. "A guy on second base with two outs, you start being careful. No one can succeed trying to be careful. You start thinking, 'Don't do this' instead of, 'Do that.'"
Likes: The Seattle Mariners, in a class move, hosting sports staffers in one of their suites Friday night from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, which closed this spring. The P-I has maintained a very small staff for its Web operation. ... The San Diego Padres, in a class move, hosting a get together in the press box late Friday night celebrating Tom Krasovic, the long time beat man for the San Diego Union-Tribune who was laid off in another of these despicable corporate bloodlettings. ... Running along the waterfront in Seattle, cruising by Pike Place Market, the P-I building, along Puget Sound. Every time I go back I marvel at what a beautiful city Seattle is. ... Green Day on The Today Show on Friday morning. ... The fish tacos at Taco Del Mar in Seattle. ... The shredded chicken enchiladas at San Diego's El Indio.
Dislikes: You can imagine my disappointment this trip into Seattle when I learned that the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar Line is not named after the pop/scat/R&B singer but after a local Seattle guy who was instrumental in getting the streetcar line started. Benson the musician is from Pittsburgh.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"The insurgency will rise
"When the blood's been sacrificed
"Don't be blinded by the lies in your eyes"
-- Green Day, Know Your Enemy