There’s an old saying, “You can’t be too rich or too thin.” I never believed it, which is a good thing, because its undeniably not true. You can be too thin.
There’s an old saying in baseball, “You can never half enough good pitching.” When Giants lefty Barry Zito is ready to come off the disabled list, we may find out if this saying is true or not.
The Giants placed Zito on the DL on April 17 after he suffered right mid-foot sprain during a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks the day before. In addition to the game on April 16 against the DBacks, Zito had started April 3 against the Dodgers (6 IP, 3H, 3ER, 2BB, 5SO–no decision) and April 10 at home against the Cardinals (5.1 IP, 6 H, 4ER, 5 BB, 1SO–LP). So at the time of his injury, he was 0-1 with 6.23 ERA.
After Zito went on the DL, the Giants called up RHP Ryan Vogelsong to take Zito’s place in the rotation. Vogelsong began his career with the Giants, was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001 along with Armando Rios for Jason Schmidt, and promptly got hurt. He then had lead a journeyman’s life, pitching poorly for the Pirates, then in Japan for three seasons, and then back to the States, bouncing around the minor leagues with the Phillies and Angels organizations. The Giants signed him to a minor league contract before spring training.
Since he replaced Zito in the Giants’ rotation, Vogelsong has been nothing short of a revelation. In 8 starts and 2 relief appearances, Vogelsong is 4-1 with a 1.68 ERA. In 53.2 innings pitched, Vogelsong has allowed only 42 hits, with 14 walks and 42 strikeouts.
After Vogelsong’s latest masterpiece on Sunday against the Colorado Rockies, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, “It’s obvious Vogey isn’t going anywhere. He’ll go every fifth day. We might have to get creative here. Brian (Sabean) and I are talking about it.”
What does that mean? Get creative? Zito is slated to make his first rehab start tonight for the High Class-A San Jose Giants against the Stockton Ports. He’s continuing to build up arm strength and stamina along with regaining the feel for his pitches. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess how long Zito will need before he’s physically ready to pitch in the majors again. Rob Neyer of Baseball Nation mused last week that Zito might be rehabbing a very, very long time.
At some point, though, Zito will be ready, and that’s when the Giants will need to “get creative.” The team is, after all, paying Zito $18.5 million this season, $19 million next season, and $20 million in 2013. After Sunday’s game, and Bochy’s comments, Bay Area Sports Guy laid out the options in the post: 3 Ways Giants can get “Creative” with Zito and Vogelsong: put Zito in the bullpen, use a 6-man rotation, or trade a starter (likely Jonathan Sanchez) for a productive bat. Ok now.
Several factors point strongly toward Zito starting in the bullpen, the most obvious being that the Giants cannot fully assess the value of options 2 and 3 without seeing how Zito fares off a major league mound, unless Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner or Vogelsong suffers an injury or completely loses his arm slot over the next several weeks.
This morning, Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow said on KNBR’s Murph & Mac Show that once the Giants “get Zito right” and he’s “throwing strikes,” then he can be used in any number of ways. (Granted, those are both big “ifs” but let’s assume they happen). Krukow then made a point of saying that Zito had shown a few years ago that he can come out of the bullpen. Krukow referenced a game against San Diego and said “Zito did quite well.”
Let’s take a closer look. On August 5, 2007, in his first season with the Giants, Zito pitched 1 inning in relief in a game against the Padres. Noah Lowry was the starting pitcher for the Giants, which gives you a sense of how long ago this game was. Zito faced three batters and retired them all: Khalil Greene (no longer in the MLB), Kevin Kouzmanoff (demoted to AAA today), and Michael Barrett (no longer in the MLB). Zito’s relief appearance was on 2 days of rest.
Zito then made his regular start in the Giants’ next game, on August 7, against the Washington Nationals–on only 1 day of rest. Zito went 5 innings, gave up 6 hits–3 of which were home runs–4 earned runs, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts. The Giants scored some runs for Zito that night, so he took a no decision. The losing pitcher was Kevin Correia, who now pitches for the Pittsburgh Pirates and is the first 8-game winner in the National League this season. Go figure.
It wasn’t until 2010 that Zito pitched again in relief. On August 25, the Giants played the Cincinnati Reds at AT&T Park. Madison Bumgarner started, gave up 8 runs in less than 3 innings, and left the game to the bullpen. The Giants rallied, tied the game, went ahead, blew the lead in the bottom of the ninth, and lost in 12 innings. Zito pitched the 12th, gave up 1 run on 3 hits and 1 walk, and took the loss.
Three days later, Zito made his regular start, in a game against the Diamondbacks at AT&T. He lasted only 3.2 innings, giving up 7 earned runs (9 runs) on 6 hits (1 home run), 5 walks and 1 strikeout. He took the loss.
And there you have the sum total of Barry Zito’s relief appearances and other games pitched on less than 4 days rest over a career dating back to 2000. Doesn’t scream “successful relief pitcher,” does it?
There’s also the fact that Zito doesn’t throw particularly hard, doesn’t have great command, and doesn’t have swing-through stuff, even on his curve ball. And the Giants already have two lefties in the bullpen–Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affedlt–both of whom have been effective of late.
Heading into tonight’s game against the Nationals, the Giants lead the NL West by .5 games over the Diamondbacks. The offense is putrid (2nd worst in the NL in runs scored), so even with stellar pitching (sans Zito), the Giants have to scratch and claw for every win. Every run scored is crucial. Every run allowed takes a year off Bruce Bochy’s life.
So what, exactly, would Zito do for the Giants out of the bullpen? Other than pitch mop-up innings in blow-out games, I have no idea. I suppose I’m just not creative enough.