MESA, Ariz. – Barry Zito made his share of good pitches Thursday, along with one he wished he had back.
From that standpoint, his outing was typical of most any pitcher making his spring training debut, and perhaps that’s the best thing Zito and the A’s can take away from his two-inning stint against the Chicago Cubs at Sloan Park.
The lefty didn’t look like a guy pitching in his first professional game in 19 months. He gave up two hits and struck out two, and though a two-run homer surrendered to Mike Olt put a damper on things, Zito drew positives from his first outing after sitting out the entire 2014 season.
“It doesn’t feel like a year-and-a-half,” he said afterward. “You just go right back to where you were.”
One scout who had a radar gun on Zito clocked his fastball between 86 and 89 miles per hour in the first inning and between 84 and 86 in the second. The fact that Zito even touched 89 is very encouraging based on the velocity he showed for much of his seven-year stint with the Giants.
The lefty said he was less concerned with how hard he threw and more with whether his mix of pitches was keeping hitters off-balance. For his next outing, he said he wants to keep his curve lower in the strike zone and be more consistent with his changeup, which he views as a key third pitch during this comeback attempt with Oakland.
Zito is on a minor league deal, meaning the team would have to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for him were they to want him on the Opening Night 25-man roster. Manager Bob Melvin said he would have more information Friday on Zito’s next outing, but he came away encouraged with Thursday’s effort.
“His velocity was pretty good,” Melvin said. “He was consistent at 86. I thought he located his changeup. He threw a couple balls up, but all in all, for a guy who hasn’t pitched in a year, I thought he was pretty impressive.”
Zito set the Cubs down in order in the first, getting Starlin Castro to swing through a changeup for an inning-ending strikeout. He got a big lift on his very first batter, when Dexter Fowler smoked a ball toward third base that Brett Lawrie made a great stop on to get the out at first.
In the second, Zito rang up Miguel Montero looking with his trademark curve. But with two outs, he hit Chris Coghlan with an 0-1 pitch. After barely missing with a 1-2 pitch to Olt, Zito came back with a changeup that Olt pounded well over the wall in left-center.
“I’ve gotta tip my hat to that guy,” Zito said. “He squared it up pretty good.”
“He throws a changeup down in the zone, and it ends up being a homer,” Melvin said. “He’s one pitch away from everybody saying how well he pitched.”
Catcher Luke Carlin, a non-roster invitee who has caught Zito since the start of camp, agreed that Zito was relatively sharp given his long layoff.
“I think he would tell you he’s a little disappointed in his changeup,” Carlin said. “(But) I thought he did a great job commanding his fastball today, and whatever the velocity was, it definitely looked faster. You could tell by the swings from the hitters. They weren’t on it.”