Sunday, May 3, 2009

Zito finally feeling at home with Giants at AT&T Park

Barry Zito is pitching well again but there is no need to pull up a couch and psychoanalyze him.

It’s real simple to figure out: Location, location, location.

Zito, tired of being a single guy living alone in his secluded four-bedroom, 6,000-square foot, $8 million house in Kent Woodlands in Marin County, is living in the City again and feeling its vibe, just as he did in his hey days with the Oakland A’s.

In addition to relocating his private life, Zito is doing a much better job of locating his pitches, too. They’re not as easy to hit when they wind up low in the strike zone and off the heart of the plate. Duh. It’s not like his fastball is suddenly any faster or his curve ball any curvier. His focus and his pitches are just sharper.

“I’ve always been a fastball in and soft stuff away pitcher,” Zito said Sunday from his locker after pitching seven shutout innings against the Colorado Rockies at AT&T Park. “I got hit around in this park when I got away from that.”

Remember when Zito used to pitch at AT&T Park and each of his starts would inevitably end with him being booed off the field? It became as trendy to scorn Zito at a Giants game as Tommy Lasorda, Johnny LeMaster and the Crazy Crab.

Now Giants fans are suddenly standing and cheering for Zito and with good reason. They applauded him as he returned from the mound to the dugout in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

Why? Why not? The $126 million man gave up only two hits on Sunday and, for the first time since the first month in his three-year career with the Giants, he has allowed only three runs in three consecutive starts. Zito hasn’t done that at home that since May 17-June 16, 2006 when he gave up only three runs in as many consecutive starts for the A’s in the Oakland Coliseum.

It is too early to proclaim that Zito is back – he needs more qualify starts against quality teams -- but this signals significant progress.

In his first two seasons at AT&T Park, Zito’s earned run average was 5.01 in home games. However, dating back to last year,  his last six starts at AT&T Park Zito’s ERA is 2.13. He has logged 42.1 innings, giving up only 25 hits and 10 earned runs with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 2-to-1 (31-14).

OK, so Zito hasn’t recorded a victory this season. The Giants have scored only six runs in five starting assignments this season and he’s had three straight no-decisions.

So what’s up with Zito and his new zenith?  It’s not the catcher. Much was made of the fact that Pablo Sandoval had become Zito’s “personal” catcher his two previous starts. But, with Sandoval nursing a slight groin injury and Bengie Molina given a day off, Steve Holm was Zito’s catcher on Sunday and Zito responded with seven shutout innings, lowering his ERA this season (which at one point was 10) to 3.99, the first time Zito’s ERA has been under 4.00 since June 4, 2007.

Zito said there’s no magic formula for this transformation. It’s all in his head. He’s just being “more relentless” in  concentrating better and focusing pitch to pitch. Basically, he’s blocking out all the bullshit that’s been swirling around for his first two years with the Giants. He said, as a veteran pitcher, one can “rediscover yourself.”

“We never like to tie our value as a person and as a human being to our performance on the field, but it’s kind of hard not to,” Zito said. “The media has flurries and things are written and fans are saying (uncomplimentary) things so it’s hard to stay strong. But I think, in the end, adversity always makes you stronger. That’s something I’ve put behind me.”

Now all Zito needs to do is keep it there.

“I feel better at the beginning of this season than I ever have,” he said.

Location, location, location.


Blogger sanfrandan said...

Interesting take that I have not seen elsewhere!

But worrisome to me. Maybe I should leave Marin and try to find my mojo!

May 6, 2009 at 9:35 PM  

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