Barry Zito will get one more start at O.co Coliseum after all. The A’s announced Tuesday the veteran left-hander will start for them Saturday against the Giants – and likely against former teammate Tim Hudson.
“Really and truly, he deserves this,” manager Bob Melvin said of Zito, “based on what he did this year in Triple A, what he’s meant to this organization. To get him out here one more time in our ballpark, against the Giants, with our fan base, their fan base and Tim Hudson on the mound – it’s going to be a very exciting day.”
Zito, Hudson and Mark Mulder formed the vaunted “Big Three” in Oakland’s rotation in the early 2000s, when the A’s made four consecutive postseasons. After seven seasons in Oakland, including his America League Cy Young season in 2002, Zito pitched for the Giants from 2007 to 2013. He spent 2014 away from baseball before returning to the A’s organization this spring and pitching the entire season at Triple-A Nashville.
After saying for weeks that Zito was not likely to be called up, the A’s did just that last Wednesday. He appeared in his first game Sunday, allowing two runs in an inning in Houston. Saturday’s start will come nearly two years to the day since his last start in the majors, Sept. 25, 2013.
“It’s definitely going to be rowdy out here,” Zito said Tuesday. “I can’t be a fan out there that day. I gotta still be a player. I won’t be able to enjoy it as much as if I was in the dugout and didn’t have to lock it in for a game. But it’s going to be a really good experience, regardless of what happens.”
It’s not an experience Zito was counting on having. He spent most of August on the disabled list in Nashville, returning in time to throw one relief inning Sept. 6. After the Sounds’ final game, Zito said, the team threw him what amounted to a retirement party.
“We had a baseball piñata in there, and a champagne shower,” Zito said. “ ’Cause I was thinking this probably would be it, you know?”
Zito said he was “hanging out at home” when A’s general manager Billy Beane called him and asked: “Do you have any bullets left in you?”
“This is icing,” Zito said. “This is all bonus, like triple-bonus situation right now. So I’m enjoying it.”
Melvin said the A’s had been discussing the best way to get Zito into Saturday’s game – whether starting or in relief, given the time he missed with shoulder tendinitis. Zito threw a bullpen session his first day with the A’s and said that convinced him he could build up to a starter’s workload. He threw an extended bullpen of about 50 pitches Tuesday, while Melvin indicated his pitch count Saturday will be flexible.
“He’s probably going to have a little adrenaline, too,” Melvin said. “We’ll have him out there as long as we think he can handle it.”
The weekend will have a distinct homecoming feel, as the A’s also announced they will honor the careers of Zito, Hudson and Mulder in a pregame ceremony Sunday that will include all three throwing out ceremonial first pitches. Mulder retired in 2010 – and had a comeback attempt in 2014 derailed by injury – while Hudson, 40, intends to retire after this season.
Zito said he has been in contact with both former teammates recently. Mulder called him shortly after Beane told Zito he was being called up, Zito said, asking if the A’s were trying to get Zito to Oakland for the “Big Three” ceremony. Zito’s response: “They are … but actually I’ll be on the field, I think.”
Hudson, meanwhile, is pitching well in his final weeks with the Giants, going 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA in his last three starts.
“It’s good to know that he’s going to be coming in hot on Saturday,” Zito said, grinning. “It’s going to be a fun little battle.”