Zito gets early nod to start home opener

Published: Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 - 12:27 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 - 9:41 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Barry Zito finally won over most of the Giants fan base with a clutch performance in St. Louis in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. On April 5, the home fans will get a chance to show their appreciation.

Zito is tentatively scheduled to start the home opener against the Cardinals, manager Bruce Bochy said Friday. Zito would follow Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum, in that order. Ryan Vogelsong is scheduled to be the No. 5 starter, but Bochy said the order could be tweaked.

"It's going to be exciting," Zito said. "It's going to be a great vibe with the fans. They've got a great lineup obviously and it's just a good jump-start right into the season. You're going up against one of the best teams in the National League and you've got to be on your game, be ready."

Zito was on his game in his first start of 2012, a stunning shutout of the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. The outing came after a spring training slump that left Zito searching for answers just hours before the Giants left the desert. While trying out a new crouched delivery, the latest in a series of spring tweaks, Zito was battered so hard last spring that he needed an emergency bullpen session at an empty Scottsdale Stadium.

Coming off two ugly Cactus League starts – 5 1/3 innings, 10 runs and 16 hits – Zito scrapped the crouch and found the feeling he was looking for.

The Giants ultimately found that their big-money left-hander was also a big-game pitcher.

Start a clubhouse conversation about the postseason and it won't be long before the focus turns to Zito's season-saving performance in the NLCS.

That was followed by a win over Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series.

When it was all over, Zito's teammates honored him with a chant of "Bar-ry! Bar-ry!" as the World Series trophy was first carried into the clubhouse.

There was just one problem.

"I didn't quite understand what was going on there," Zito said.

The champagne-soaked left-hander was being taken into a conference room by an MLB official and wasn't sure if he was actually hearing what he thought he was.

"I knew it sounded like my name, but I didn't know why," Zito said. "That was surreal. It's hard to even fathom that kind of support."

Not if you're one of Zito's teammates. Zito is fervently respected in the clubhouse for the grace he showed in the 2010 postseason, when he was left off the playoff roster but told Bochy that he would stay ready, just in case. He is lauded for his work ethic and the continued push to get better, even as fans derided a $126 million contract that Zito never came close to living up to.

As the deal winds down, it feels that all is forgiven. Zito earned postseason hero status with his Game 5 victory and inspired a Twitter movement – #RallyZito – that would carry on throughout the rest of the postseason.

"He found himself last year," Bochy said. "You can tell he's really in a good place with his confidence, and he should be with the year he had."

While announcing his tentative rotation, Bochy stressed that the order doesn't matter. That's especially true in the case of Vogelsong, who will likely take the ball last but, outside of Cain, made the strongest case last season to be anointed an ace.

The schedule puts Cain, Bumgarner and Lincecum in line to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in a season-opening series between two rivals poised for an epic back-and-forth.

"I'm definitely excited to get out there again and throw against that team," Lincecum said, noting the Dodgers' blockbuster moves.

Lincecum is followed by Zito, who will be tasked with taking the ball after a lengthy pregame commemoration of the champion Giants. Following last season's turnaround, Zito is sure to receive one of the loudest ovations of his seven-year career in San Francisco, adding another improbable twist to a run that had so many downs before the postseason highs.

"With the year he had and some of the things he's been through, I think that would mean a lot to him," Bochy said.

Note – The Giants traded infielder Conor Gillaspie to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for right-handed pitcher Jeff Soptic, a 21-year-old who has a 5.09 ERA in 30 relief appearances over the past two seasons.

Gillaspie, who likely wasn't going to make the club and is out of options, made his major-league debut 96 days after being drafted in 2008. In 29 major-league games, Gillas-pie hit .205 with one homer and four RBIs.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Alex Pavlovic



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