Instead, they ended up with a injury-plagued pitcher whose best years suddenly appeared to be behind him. In four seasons with the Giants, Zito has never won more than 11 games or posted an ERA below 4.00. The 2002 Cy Young Award winner didn’t even make San Francisco’s postseason roster during its run to the 2010 World Series title.
But Zito remains eager to prove he can still be a productive starting pitcher — and on Monday night in Denver, the 33-year-old took a big step toward proving it.
Zito shut down the Colorado Rockies with nine innings of four-hit ball, notching his first shutout in nine years and leading the Giants to a 7-0 win — their first of the season.
Zito needed only 114 pitches to get through 32 batters, and perhaps the most important stat was the number of walks he issued: zero.
“Today, I just tried to stay pitch to pitch,” Zito told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Eventually the innings are over and the game is over. You don’t want to try to go out there and pitch a shutout. It’s pretty much impossible to get outs when you’re trying to get outs instead of just making pitches.”
Last season, Zito turned to yoga to help his rehabilitation from a right foot injury that cost him much of the season. The routine seemed to help Zito find balance and put past disappointments with the Giants behind him. Over the last two years he has become an afterthought for a team that handed massive contracts to young aces Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. But the reminders of Zito’s struggles remain, from lackluster stats to the boos that cascade from the stands at AT&T Park.
As San Francisco Chronicle columnist Henry Schulman writes, Monday provided a small measure of vindication — at least for one night.
Once all the yuksters get those 2012 Mayan apocalypse jokes out of their system and peel themselves off the floor, they should plop themselves into a comfy chair, pour a glass of cheer and contemplate the surprise that Barry Zito had for baseball Monday.
Reviled by his home fans, mocked by scouts and battered in his final two spring training starts, Zito followed awful performances by Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain and pitched his first shutout in 147 starts as a Giant, his first since 2003 and the first by a Giant at Coors Field.
Zito threw a four-hitter for San Francisco's first win, a 7-0 game to remember and a pitching performance that brought great satisfaction for players inside the clubhouse who hate to see him ripped so often.
"I couldn't be happier for Barry," first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "It's no secret he's been buried by the fans, the media and everything like that. To see him go out and throw a complete-game shutout in Colorado ... all the haters out there, that's for them."
Whether this was a random blast from the past or a sign of things to come for Zito remains to be seen. Ryan Vogelsong, the man who stole Zito’s rotation spot with an All-Star campaign in 2011, is coming off a spring training injury and will be the team’s fifth starter, behind Zito. And should Zito pitch the way he did in spring training (7.91 ERA, 12 BBs in 19 1/3 innings), the Giants have prospects at Triple-A Fresno, including 24-year-old lefty Eric Surkamp, who could replace him.
But if he can get close to his former dominant self, Zito will help bolster one of the best starting pitching staffs in the National League, giving the Giants a good shot to contend with the Diamondbacks for the NL West crown.