MESA, Ariz. -– Barry Zito will get his shot at a storybook comeback with the A’s, but he’s going to have to earn it.
Manager Bob Melvin said he’s got one Cactus League start already penciled in for the veteran lefty, who’s a non-roster invitee to Oakland’s spring camp. Beyond that, nothing is set in stone, and Melvin was careful to stress that there’s a number of young starting candidates who need innings to be evaluated.
“We’ll see where it all plays out,” Melvin said on Thursday’s reporting day for pitchers and catchers. “I know I have at least one start for him early on. Innings tend to dry up as camp goes along. … You don’t bring a guy into camp if there’s no shot. (But) we don’t play into it too much. There’s a lot of guys here, a lot of young guys and guys that we like.”
Melvin said he caught the tail end of Zito’s bullpen session Tuesday and that the 36-year-old lefty looked good. Zito has been working with the same pitching instructor who helped resurrect the career of fellow A’s lefty Scott Kazmir, and reportedly he has revamped his mechanics and gotten his fastball back up into the high 80’s.
Zito showed up to Hohokam Stadium for his morning physical Thursday but left without addressing the media. After forming one-third of the “Big Three” pitching combo that helped carry the A’s to four consecutive postseason trips from 2000-03, Zito’s return to the A’s on a minor league deal has generated attention.
But it’s a crowded field that will fight for the three open rotation spots behind Kazmir and Sonny Gray. Chris Bassitt, Kendall Graveman, Jesse Hahn and Sean Nolin all were acquired in offseason trades and will get looks, and Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz are strong candidates simply because of their time spent in Oakland’s rotation last year.
But Zito has the track record -- a Cy Young award in 2002, three All-Star appearances and 165 career victories, though his best seasons came with the A’s before he signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Giants in 2007. Zito went 63-80 with a 4.62 ERA over seven years with San Francisco, then stepped away from the game last season.
As Melvin pointed out, Zito also possesses a work ethic that he hopes will rub off on the younger pitchers.
“He’s a great resource for some of the younger pitching we have, and a guy we brought in here to give him a chance, get him a look,” Melvin said. “I know he’s reinvigorated about his love for the game and passion for pitching. We’re excited about seeing him.”