Oakland A's

Zito says chance to pitch again in Oakland, face Hudson is ‘icing’

Barry Zito works against the Chicago Cubs in an A’s spring training game March 24 in Mesa, Ariz.
Barry Zito works against the Chicago Cubs in an A’s spring training game March 24 in Mesa, Ariz. AP

Barry Zito will get one more start at O.co Coliseum after all. The A’s announced Tuesday that the veteran left-hander will start for them Saturday against the San Francisco 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 American 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 on 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.”

Saturday’s game will be part one of a weekend with a distinct homecoming feel. The A’s also announced they will honor the careers of Zito, Hudson and Mulder during a pregame ceremony Sunday, including all three throwing out ceremonial first pitches. Ironically, Zito said that at almost the same time Beane contacted him with news of his call-up, Mulder called him asking if the A’s were trying to get him to Oakland for the ceremony.

“They are,” Zito responded. “But actually, I’ll be on the field, I think.”

Looking back, Zito said, his time as part of the Big Three was “definitely special.” From 2000 to 2004, Zito, Hudson and Mulder combined to go 234-119 for the A’s – a .663 winning percentage – while leading Oakland to the playoffs each of the first four of those seasons. Zito on Tuesday recalled the three all pushed each other despite disparate pitching styles.

“Mulder was the king of the two-hour game,” Zito said. “Huddy would just go out there with the sinker-split, punching dudes out left and right. I had the curveball and the changeup. We definitely enjoyed watching each other, I know that.”

The group disbanded after the 2004 season. Mulder retired in 2010, his career mired by injuries, and had a comeback attempt in 2014 derailed by injury. Hudson, 40, intends to retire after this season – but is pitching well in his final weeks, going 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA in his last three starts for the Giants. Zito said with a grin that it’s “good to know he’s going to be coming in hot on Saturday.”

“I think the fans deserve something like that,” Zito said of the weekend’s events, “some closure from those early years, all the fun we had.”

As for his own future, Zito said he’s leaving things open. Two weeks ago, he was easing into life without baseball. He had “shut it off mentally,” he said, and was looking forward to spending more time on a burgeoning music career. That’s still an avenue Zito wants to explore, and he said he plans to stay in Nashville for the winter for that purpose.

Does that mean he still intends for this season to be his last as a baseball player?

“I don’t know,” Zito said. “I’m allowing room for things to change. More my mindset is just be with the family and chill out for a minute, enjoy things, enjoy some music. But it’s not official, it’s not a final decision, by any means. We’ll see what the next couple weeks has in store.”

Zito said he could see himself coaching somewhere down the line, and that’s “definitely in the back pocket.” For now, though, he is enjoying a cameo as a pitcher that he did not think would come. He’s looking forward to facing the Giants – whose manager, Bruce Bochy, gave Zito a memorable sendoff in 2013 by bringing him in for one batter in the Giants’ season finale – and to pitching against Hudson, back where their careers began.

“It’s going to be,” Zito said, “a fun little battle.”

Zito was the headline on a newsy day in Oakland. The rest of it in brief:

▪ Catcher Josh Phegley will miss the rest of the season with a concussion sustained when he was accidentally hit in the head during batting practice on the A’s last trip. Melvin said Billy Butler inadvertently hit Phegley in the back of the head with a bat while both were waiting outside the cage to hit.

“We were hoping it was a short period type of thing,” Melvin said. “But it’s not, and he’s going to be out for the season, unfortunately.”

▪ Right-hander Chris Bassitt will start for the A’s on Thursday against the Texas Rangers – his first outing since Aug. 22. Bassitt has been out with shoulder soreness, but Melvin said it was important for the A’s and Bassitt to get the right-hander back on the mound in a game before the season ends.

“It is important for him, not only physically but psychologically going into next year, to get a couple starts under his belt,” Melvin said. “And it’s good to have him back in the rotation. We’ve been awfully banged up there.”

The move pushes Sonny Gray back to Friday. Melvin said that decision was not made without some consideration of the fact the A’s started Gray against Houston last week, but will not start him in this series against the Rangers, who are battling with the Astros for the A.L. West crown.

“First and foremost you have to take care of your guys,” Melvin said. “Our workload for Sonny’s been pretty extensive this year … We thought long and hard about it, but in Sonny’s case we need to give him an extra day.”

▪ The A’s are now without both their regular catchers, but Melvin said Stephen Vogt is doing some work behind the plate and could catch in a game sometime this homestand.

Vogt has not caught since taking a foul tip to the groin area Sept. 6 that sent him to the hospital. Melvin said the hope is Vogt may be able to catch in the Giants series.

The absence of Vogt and Phegley has left Carson Blair, who spent most of this season at Double A, as virtually the A’s everyday catcher.

“He’s been a quick study,” Melvin said. “He does a good job behind the plate catching and throwing. He’s done a nice job for us.”

▪ Right-hander Jesse Hahn has started playing catch – an encouraging development after the A’s had thought Hahn might be shut down completely for the season with tightness in his forearm. The A’s wanted to be careful with Hahn, who has already had Tommy John surgery once in his career. But Melvin said Hahn has felt good enough recently to start playing catch out to 60 feet.

“I know he’s really excited about it,” Melvin said. “Until you actually get out there and throw, having gone what he’s gone through, you can think some negative things. When I saw him today he was in as good a mood as he’s been in a while.”

And in other pitcher injuries: Starter Kendall Graveman (oblique) is also playing catch at 60 feet. Edward Mujica (hamstring) is playing catch. And Jarrod Parker, working his way back from a horrific elbow injury sustained during his Tommy John recovery, is doing sock throws -- a precursor to playing catch.

▪ The A’s lineup for Tuesday against Rangers left-hander Martin Perez:

CF Burns

1B Canha

2B Lawrie

3B Valencia

DH Butler

RF Reddick

LF Smolinski

SS Semien

C Blair

And the Rangers lineup against A’s left-hander Sean Nolin:

CF DeShields

RF Choo

3B Beltre

DH Fielder

LF Napoli

1B Moreland

SS Andrus

2B Odor

C Gimenez