San Francisco Giants: Make Ryan Vogelsong No.5 Starter, Move Barry Zito to Pen

Manny Randhawa@@MannyBal9Correspondent IIIApril 28, 2011

Ryan Vogelsong matched a career-high with 8 strikeouts against the Pirates Wednesday
Ryan Vogelsong matched a career-high with 8 strikeouts against the Pirates WednesdayJared Wickerham/Getty Images

We were all wondering how journeyman right-hander Ryan Vogelsong would do in his first major league start since 2004.

We have our answer.

Vogelsong turned in a solid performance, going 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on four hits and tying a career-high with eight stirkeouts against his former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, as the Giants took the series from the Bucs by defeating them 5-2 at PNC Park.

Vogelsong is the first man to fill-in for the injured Barry Zito, who has frustrated Giants fans with his mediocre performances thus far in 2011.  Zito is 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA.  He has allowed nine runs on 12 hits while walking eight in 13 innings this season.

When Zito sprained his foot on April 16 in Arizona and went on the disabled list, a debate started over who the Giants should bring in as the fifth starter.

After today's performance by Ryan Vogelsong, the debate will now shift to: what should the Giants do with Zito when he returns from the DL?

Zito is eligible to come off of the disabled list on May 2, and whether he will or not remains unknown.  But what we do know is that Ryan Vogelsong has established himself with the Giants.  Prior to his first start on Wednesday, he had pitched six and 2/3 innings in relief for San Francisco, not yielding a run while striking out three.

After his first start Wednesday, it's clear that Vogelsong has what it takes to not only be an adequate fifth starter at the major league level, but quite the complement to the Giants' stellar starting staff of Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.

Vogelsong had good stuff on Wednesday—his fastball was topping out at 92 mph and his curveball was effective in neutralizing Pirates hitters.  He walked off the mound in the sixth inning with a 1.74 ERA in 12 and 1/3 innings pitched this season.


When Zito Returns, It Should Be To The Bullpen

So what should be done about Barry Zito?

Zito has had ample time to show the Giants that he can still perform at the high level he once did in Oakland.  While he has shown glimpses of great progress, it has been one step forward, two steps back for the left-hander.  His fastball is now only topping out in the low to mid-80s and his control has become a real issue.

Zito will eventually return to the club, and the Giants will inevitably face the choice of what to do with him.  He should be in the bullpen and not the starting rotation.

There is precedence for such a move by the Giants.  They moved Zito to the bullpen back in 2008 when he started the season 0-6.

A Zito move to the bullpen may be good for his psyche as well.  While it is obviously not a confidence-booster to be removed from the starting rotation, moving him to the bullpen could eventually take some of the pressure of performing up to the standards of the other Giants starters off of Zito.  It may actually help him focus as well as make his job simpler.

Zito has shown in his outings this season that he is relatively effective through the first four or five innings of a game, but then becomes more erratic and vulnerable as the game moves into the later innings.  Bringing Zito in to pitch out of the bullpen would mean shorter appearances for him, making it more likely that his arm strength will not suffer and he could be more effective.


One Thing's For Certain

Ryan Vogelsong was impressive today, building on a strong record from spring training and in his relief appearances earlier in the month.  The Giants would be wise to keep him in the starting rotation going forward.