SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Barry Zito used his big, slow curveball and a sharp cutter to keep the Arizona Diamondbacks off balance for three shutout innings in his second spring appearance.
Zito struck out two, including former teammate and 2010 postseason hero Cody Ross looking, and walked none in his first Cactus League start. Arizona had just two singles against Zito, who got some help from the usual defensive standouts, Gregor Blanco and Brandon Crawford.
After starting the game with two quick outs, Tim Lincecum’s nemesis Paul Goldschmidt ripped a base hit to left. Jason Kubel followed with a shallow fly ball that looked like it was going to find grass until Blanco, taking over primary centerfield duties with Angel Pagan off to the World Baseball Classic, ended the inning with a diving play.
Zito started the second inning by sending Ross back to the visitor’s dugout at Scottsdale Stadium shaking his head in disagreement as homeplate umpire Angel Campos decided Zito’s two-strike cutter found the outside corner.
“Cody’s a good dude,” Zito said after the start. “I just saw him at a charity event last Friday. He’s obviously loved here. He got a nice cheer from the fans here.”
After striking out Ross, Zito got Rod Barajas to ground out to short but gave up another two-out single on Cliff Pennington’s screaming line drive that went in and out third baseman Nick Noonan’s glove. After Pennington put himself in scoring position with a steal, Crawford bailed out both Noonan and Zito on the next ball in play. John McDonald hit a grounder in the hole between third and short that Noonan couldn’t get to. Crawford, however, got a great jump to get behind Noonan, glove the ball and make a strong flat-footed throw to Buster Posey at first.
The third inning was a quick one for Zito as he struck out former Oakland Athletics teammate Eric Chavez, who was 4-for-7 in his career against the 2002 A.L. Cy Young Award winner. A line drive to short and a popped bunt back to the mound capped Zito’s afternoon.
“Barry was sharp,” Bochy said. “He had a good tempo out there and was hitting his spots. Good effort by Z. And he’s been throwing well since he’s been here so he’s on track.”
Zito, heading into the last season of his seven-year, $126 million contract, allowed two runs in 1.2 innings on Feb. 27 against the Los Angeles Angels in his first spring outing, a game that rotation-mate Ryan Vogelsong started.
“I felt better than the last time out for sure,” Zito said. “My focus was better, my timing was better, and just making more pitches.”
Last spring, Zito was focused on re-working his delivery and ended up with ugly numbers: 17 earned runs, five home runs and 12 walks in 19.1 innings. This time around, Zito said he can concentrate on finding a comfortable delivery and making sure he repeats it on every pitch.
“Everything feels pretty good at this point,” Zito said. “Last year I was really tweaking a lot of mechanics and such. Right now it’s more about getting as consistent as I can with my delivery and not really tweaking, just getting all my pitches working.”
When asked to compare Zito's 2012 spring with his start this season, Bochy put it all in perspective:
“Night and day. He really had his struggles last spring and he was experimenting a little bit. He’s coming off a good year and he’s come in with the same attitude and delivery that he had last year, where the year before he was trying some things, trying to get on track. It’s hard to do. But this year he’s pitching the same way he did in 2012 and that’s all we want.”