Like most San Francisco Giants fans, I cringe when the subject of Barry Zito's $126 million contract comes up. We've all gone through way too much pain as Zito has struggled through the first five years of the deal (it seems more like 20). Like many other people, I had advocated trading Zito to anyone who would take him and having the Giants eat the contract, just to be able to turn the page.
But 2012 has been a new year for Zito. He started to prove his worth in his first start of the season, with a shutout of the Colorado Rockies. This followed the Giants getting swept in the opening series in Arizona at the hands of the Diamondbacks. It was a big, early win for Zito and the Giants.
After 11 starts, Zito is 5-2 with a 2.98 ERA and a WHIP of 1.25. Zito is pitching deep into games, averaging 6.6 innings per start. Not only are these numbers good, but they're worthy of All-Star consideration just one month before the Midsummer Classic.
In watching Zito's latest gem on Sunday, I saw a different pitcher than I've seen at any time during his career with the Giants. Yesterday, he threw only 96 pitches in 8.1 innings. In a word, he was amazing. Zito is confident and poised. Yesterday, he was playing catch with Hector Sanchez, working rapidly, in sharp contrast to past seasons in which he threw slowly and tentatively.
For the first time in his Giants career, he resembles the same guy who won 102 games in seven seasons with the Oakland Athletics (Sunday was only his 48th win for the Giants in six seasons). He looks like the 2002 AL Cy Young award winner who went 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA.
By the way, you have to wonder how much of a difference throwing to Sanchez has made to the new and improved Zito. No knock on Buster Posey, but some pitchers and catchers connect and some don't.
These guys connect.
I remember when Zito threw a rehab start in San Jose last season while Sanchez was catching there. Zito had nice things to say about Sanchez and the way he caught him. The pairing continued when Sanchez had a late season cup of coffee in San Francisco, and it has blossomed this season.
With Zito humming (and if it continues, fingers crossed) and if Tim Lincecum can return to form (and I wouldn't bet against it happening soon), the Giants will be tough to beat.
Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain are all throwing well, and, if anything, you can count on Mad Bum to pick it up a bit in the last two-thirds of the season.
Pablo Sandoval will return this weekend from the DL, so the lineup will be that much better soon.
The only area the Giant still need to shore up is first base. If Brandon Belt doesn't start hitting soon, then changes need to be made, with either Posey going to first and Sanchez catching or Sandoval moving to first and Arias remaining at third, where he's been spectacular defensively.
The Giants have carved four-and-a-half games off of the Los Angeles Dodgers' lead in the last week, cutting the margin to only three games.
Things are looking up in San Francisco, and Barry Zito has been a big part of their recent success.