COHN: Barry Zito not just getting batters out, he's dominant
Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 7:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 8:39 a.m.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Change Barry Zito's name to Barry Zero.
Zero has a good ring to it and it's appropriate because Zito/Zero has given up, get this, no runs in two starts this season, as in zero, as in 0.00 earned run average. As in zilch.
Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum wish they could change their names to Zero. But they can't.
Here are a few more numbers, and I promise not to make this a numbers-oriented column. The Giants, who beat the Colorado Rockies 10-0 on Wednesday, have won the previous 16 times Zito has started, going back to last season. That includes three postseason starts. The Giants' 16 in a row behind Zito ties their team record for 16 straight wins behind a starter, the co-record-holder being none other than the legendary Carl Hubbell, who did it in 1936, which means you might have missed it.
The Giants and the Elias Sports Bureau can't say if any Giants pitcher prior to 1920 led the team to 16 or more wins. Maybe they didn't keep records then. But it doesn't matter. What I'm saying here is simple — Barry Zito is very good.
And that's amazing. Not just because he was a bust — when he was a bust. It's also how he looks when he pitches.
I sit in the press box directly behind home plate at AT&T Park, and I see his fat, lovely, inviting pitches wandering/floating/making their way toward the plate, and I'm thinking — silly me — “I could whack those balls.” Zito's pitches, with all due respect, look like what you face in the slow-pitch area at the local batting cage. Pitchers in high school routinely throw harder than Zito.
And yet, there were the Rockies — a formidable group of hitters — looking like a bunch of stooges.
It's not like Zito had it easy with them. He got into trouble in the fifth and sixth innings and gutted it out. Take what happened in the fifth. He had runners at first and second with one out. In the past, he would have cracked up and surrendered a double or a homer, or both. He simply would have surrendered.
Not this time. Eric Young came up with two on and one out, and Zito slowed down the game, almost made it stop. He did that thing you've seen before — he bent over at the waist and stared at Buster Posey for the sign. And then he stared some more.
While he stared, he dangled his left arm like a man trying to increase blood flow to avoid frostbite and he wiggled the hand. The wiggle is apparently important. He got Young to line out to right. Up came Josh Rutledge who hit into a force play. Inning over.
Here's one reason Zito is better than he used to be. He gets people out in the strike zone.
That's key. He used to nibble around the strike zone afraid to throw it in there. Call him a chronic nibbler. He must have gone to Nibblers Anonymous because he nibbles no more. He pounds the zone, although “pounds” is too strong for his soft pitches.
Let's apply some adjectives to Zito: crafty, cunning, smart. But those are so obvious. There are others, maybe more appropriate: devastating and dominating. That's right, devastating and dominating. It's hard to imagine Zito as dominating, but he dominated the Rockies. Just ask them.
And that means we need some expert guidance, or as they used to say in high school — we need some enrichment to understand the Zito-ness of Zito. For enrichment on the Giants, go to Jeremy Affeldt. It's what I do and it's what you'd do if you were allowed in their clubhouse.
“I just don't think he throws the same speed twice,” Affeldt said as an opener. “Good hitters are going to tell you they hit well when they have good timing. He's changing speeds every pitch. You don't really know when to start swinging the bat. The last three or four years, he's learned, 'This is the stuff I have now. I don't have 92 anymore. While I have a good hook, I just don't have the heater. So now, I've got to learn to pitch.'
“He kind of had a learning curve and, last year, it seemed like it clicked in. And so far this season, he's done a good job. We call that 'pitching.' If you don't have that good velocity, but you can add and subtract in the zone, that's pitching. That's what (Greg) Maddux did and (Tom) Glavine did and (Jamie) Moyer did. He mixes and matches and he has confidence and he's throwing strikes with all his pitches,” Affeldt said.
“If you can throw quality strikes, and if you can throw the ball where you want it, and if you can expose a hole in the hitter, I don't think velocity matters. If you throw the ball to a spot where that hitter is not gearing his swing, you have a good chance to get him out. And then you add and subtract on top of that, and they don't know if they need to stay back or swing early or stay back longer. It's a tough thing for a hitter.”
It certainly is tough. Zito commands four pitches — curve, cutter, changeup and fastball, although it's debatable if he has a fastball. Call it a “faster ball.” And he can throw those pitches to all four quadrants of the plate. You've heard that expression “mind over matter.” With Zito, it's “mind over batter.”
Let's give Bruce Bochy the final word on Zito:
“Anybody who's not a power guy, he's got to have some savvy out there. Barry has that. It's fun to watch when a pitcher's on and he's hitting his spots and he's mixing 'em up. It's a thing of beauty when you have a guy who's not just reaching back and throwing 95.”
Not only is Barry Zito devastating and dominating, he's also a thing of beauty. Life sure is surprising — well, his life is.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.
com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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