SEATTLE – Given the A’s injury situation and current need for pitching depth, it begs the question:
Could Barry Zito eventually be part of the solution for Oakland?
Right now the stats would suggest no. Zito, who rejoined the A’s on a minor league deal in spring training, is 0-3 with a 5.74 ERA in six starts for Triple-A Nashville. It’s been an adjustment for the former Cy Young winner, who admitted Saturday he’s experienced some culture shock after accepting a minor league assignment coming out of spring training.
“I was telling myself it wouldn’t be weird, but it was strange,” Zito said in a phone interview with CSN California. “I had to re-calibrate mentally and embrace the competition. It was definitely tough, and travel in the PCL is very difficult. You’re up at 3 a.m., usually flying with a layover, to play a game that day. We’ve already sat on a tarmac in Abilene, Texas. There’s all kinds of shenanigans (with) commercial flights.”
Zito, who turns 37 on Wednesday, joined the A’s in the spring as a non-roster invitee after sitting out the 2014 season to re-boot himself mentally. He’s enjoying getting back to competitive baseball, though the results to this point haven’t been what he hoped for. He’s allowed 40 hits and walked 17 in 31 1/3 innings for Nashville. After needing about a month to adjust to his surroundings, he said his timing on the mound has felt better over his past couple of starts.
Part of it surely is a pitcher still knocking off rust after taking a full year off. But part of it also is a mental adjustment. Zito’s last full season came in 2013 with the Giants, a team that was coming off a World Series championship the year before. Given the stage is much smaller, Zito was asked if he feels the same competitive edge as when he’s taking a major league mound.
During a game played in poor weather in New Orleans, “we had about 36 fans at first pitch. I counted them,” he said. “You’ve got to manufacture (the motivation) a little more. You can’t ride the adrenaline. It’s a good exercise. It gives you feedback about how bad you want to be doing this. It’s not gonna be handed to me. I have to earn it.”
Because he’s not tied to a major league contract, Zito can continue to gauge how he’s feeling about his return to baseball.
“I don’t have to be here,” he said. “At any point, if I wanted to walk away, I could. That’s the good thing.”
He added that A’s general manager Billy Beane has been very supportive of his comeback. If Zito were to begin mowing down Triple-A hitters and another team came offering a major league opportunity, it figures the A’s wouldn’t hold him back. But given their own pitching situation, Zito could become a more realistic option for Oakland if he regains his form. On Friday, the A’s announced that Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin – both coming back from Tommy John surgery – had suffered injury setbacks.
Parker’s injury is particularly troubling. He crumpled to the ground in pain Friday after re-injuring his elbow making a rehab start for Nashville. His prognosis isn’t known yet, but watching Parker go down was tough for Zito.
“Me and Kendall (Graveman) were in the stands charting pitches. He threw a pitch and it went to the screen,” Zito said. “I looked back from the screen to Jarrod, and he was on the ground. That’s difficult to watch. Me and Kendall are just numb, totally stunned. Watching that just (shows) that any pitch can be our last.
“It’s just devastating to know he’s going to be set back again. I’ll be praying for him and his family.”
As for life away from the field, Zito and his wife, Amber, -- who have a young son –- are enjoying Nashville. Playing guitar and writing songs are among Zito’s passions, and he said he’s getting to know more people in the industry living in a city known as a music capital.
“I’d love to collaborate (with other musicians),” Zito said. “It’s a songwriting town.”