Giants-Marlins: Make or Break Start for San Francisco's Barry Zito

Nick SturialeCorrespondent IMay 22, 2008

A year and a half ago, Giants management somehow convinced fans that signing the 28-year-old lefthander to a seven-year, $126 million deal was the best move the team could make.

Now, in the midst of a dreadful 2008 season that has witnessed veterans fall out and rookies unable to play at the next level, sits the $126-million-dollar man, Barry Zito—and his 0-8 record, something which has angered Giants fans.

Let us go back to the offseason before the 2007 season to explain the circumstances surrounding the signing. At the time, Zito was the only number-one starter the Giants, along with multiple other clubs, could even consider signing.

To lock this ace up required a large amount of money, especially when competing with teams—like the Mets and Rangers—willing to fork over large contracts. At the time, the Giants were still thinking about making a run at the postseason, hoping that Zito would be the answer to get them there in Barry Bonds' final year in a Giants uniform. 

Back to 2008. We stand in May, 48 games into the season, with the Giants  sitting at 19-29 and Zito yet to earn a single victory. It took an 0-7 start, an ERA over 7.50, along with fan complaints on the radio, to finally prompt Giants management to relieve him of his duties and demote him to the bullpen. But the Giants continued to lose anyway, and he is back on the mound as the number-one guy. 

Zito's last three starts have provided Giants fans with some hope, as his ERA has dropped all the way down to 6.13—throwing 16 innings and allowing just seven runs. While these numbers are nowhere near what an $18 million dollar pitcher should be throwing up, his start in Florida tomorrow will be the test of whether or not he is capable of being the Giants' ace.

Zito has pitched decently in his last few starts, but not quite well enough to convince Giants fans that he is their guy. Tomorrow night in Miami, as the Giants take on the hot streaking Marlins, all eyes will be on Zito—partly because the rest of the team is nothing to look at, and partly because of what is expected of him.

As Zito goes against one of the younger, tougher-hitting clubs in the league, we will finally be able to tell just what he is capable of doing.

Zito knows what is expected of him, and has continued to say that he is not living up to expectations, but this really is his final test. If he pitches a gem, like he should have all along, Giants fans may begin to feel sorry that his offense can't put more than two runs on the board for him.

But if he implodes on the mound like he did against Arizona earlier this year, he could be in big trouble.

We all know Zito is capable of being a Cy Young winner, as he won the Award in 2001. But until he returns to that form, Giants fans will not see the value in a player whose contract rivals that of Barry Bonds. While he isn't expected to win the Cy Young award, he is expected to win—and that's all the fans have asked.

The Giants will head into Florida tomorrow night. And in front of about 7100 fans, we will see if Zito is capable of returning to the form that he agreed to embody when he signed with the Giants.