San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito’s next start was supposed to be the one that redeemed him, the one that proved his Titanic-like last showing against the San Diego Padres — the one where he led the Giants to a resounding 11-3 defeat — was nothing more than a fluke, an anomaly, and absolutely, completely, totally not microwaved leftovers of Mr. Zito’s less-than-stellar 2010 season second half.
This game was supposed to be the one in which he showed that the Giants should give him — not Jonathan Sanchez — the fifth starting pitcher position.
Unfortunately, Mr. Zito failed to convince anyone that he’s the Fifth Man. Indeed, he failed to convince anyone that he could locate the strike zone without the aid of GPS.
Before Mr. Zito exited at the end of the seventh inning in Game 1 of the Giants’ three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies Tuesday night, he had given up six runs, including two home runs on hanging breaking balls that appeared to have been handed to the hitters on silver salvers, an are-you-freaking-kidding-me? inside-the-park home run to Chase Utley, two doubles, and two walks. Four of the runs were scored in the first inning.
Mr. Zito managed to put the Phillies away – three up, three down – in the second, third, and fifth innings, but it appeared to be due more to an attentive Giants outfield than anything Mr. Zito was conjuring up. A good example is the second inning. It took Mr. Zito only eight pitches to retire the side, but not one of the pitches were strikes. Half were balls. The rest were caught in the outfield.
Granted, Mr. Zito was pitching unexpectedly, having been compelled onto the mound after the scheduled starter, Tim Lincecum, was laid low with a stomach virus. But even the mildest of critics can’t excuse Mr. Zito’s poor performance. Mr. Lincecum with a stomach virus – hell, in the final stages of an Ebola infection – would, arguably, have done a better job.
This puts the Giants in a difficult position, not between a rock and a hard place, but between a Zito and a Sanchez, between a 33-year-old veteran who appears to be well past his sell-by date and a tendonitis-stricken 29-year-old previous World Series pitcher who, as the current cliché goes, is chock full of raw talent.
The only trouble with “raw talent,” of course, is that it generally requires a bit of cooking up to progress from bloody unpredictability (where Mr. Sanchez has been for a time) to medium-rare, consistent deliciousness.
Mr. Sanchez tanked badly in his first rehab Class A start, giving up six hit and two walks in only 2 2/3 innings, but showed considerable improvement in his second rehab start with Triple-A Fresno, giving up two runs and two walks in five innings.
The quicker Mr. Sanchez recovers and returns, the quicker the Giants should bid adieu to Mr. Zito. Mr. Sanchez appears to simply need to tame some of his ungovernable energy into the strike zone to succeed.
At this point, Mr. Zito’s return to greatness might require an Act of God.