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04/28/08 11:32 PM ET
Zito to work things out in bullpen
Struggling left-hander has lost career-worst six straight starts
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Zito calmly accepted his demotion to the bullpen Monday and vowed that he soon would rejoin the Giants' starting rotation, although manager Bruce Bochy didn't offer a timetable for that event. Bochy announced the move one day after Zito's worst performance of the season, a three-inning, eight-run outing in a 10-1 loss to Cincinnati. That dropped Zito's record to a Major League-worst 0-6. He also owns a 7.53 ERA and a .336 opponents' batting average, well above the respective National League averages of 4.06 and .255. "It's a good time to take a good, hard look at how I approach things and evaluate it," said Zito, the American League Cy Young Award winner in 2002. "Sometimes in your life you have to make a change and adjustments." Pitching out of the bullpen will be an adjustment for Zito, who has started in all but one of his 262 lifetime Major League appearances. He worked a perfect inning at San Diego last Aug. 5. "It's part of the game," Zito said. "I'm certainly not happy with it by any means. This is the bed that I've made; I can lay in it for the time being." The length of time Zito will spend in the bullpen remains indefinite, although a strong performance or two obviously would hasten his return to the rotation. Bochy was mostly non-committal -- "We'll watch and see how things go," he said -- although when he was asked whether Zito would miss only one turn through the rotation, he said, "Sure, that's my hope." For now, Pat Misch will occupy one of the rotation's two vacancies. The other was created by Kevin Correia's strained muscle in his left side that has put him on the 15-day disabled list. Because of scheduled off-days, the Giants won't need a fifth starter until May 10. Zito, who has struggled with command and location of his deliveries, contended that neither velocity nor his pitching mechanics -- which he has tinkered with frequently -- is an issue. "It's not about stuff, it's not about velocity, it's about attacking the strike zone and being aggressive," said Zito, admitting that he has strayed from that approach. In that respect, Zito acknowledged that he needs to tweak his mental outlook. "It's a mind-set," he said. Despite his 113-82 career record, Zito experienced periods of adversity in Oakland. He was 6-7 with a 5.01 ERA through late July in 2001, began 2005 with an 0-4 record and a 6.60 ERA in April and was 1-2, 7.54 through his first three starts of 2006.
Zito finished 11-13 with a 4.53 ERA last year for the Giants but was 3-2 with a 3.10 ERA in his final nine starts, suggesting that he had regained consistency. But his 10.31 ERA in five Spring Training starts, along with his diminished velocity, renewed doubts.
And, of course, the seven-year, $126 million contract the Giants gave Zito before last season has intensified the scrutiny upon him. But Zito scoffed at his skeptics.
"I know it's fun to run with stories -- 'Oh, is Zito done?' -- or whatever you guys are going to say. Go say it," he said. "But from my standpoint, it's a bump in the road -- a big bump. It's a battle. It's stuff that I've gone through, but there hasn't been the kind of scrutiny around it because of the market or the contract."
Bochy said that Zito, who threw 66 pitches Sunday, probably won't be available to pitch relief until the Philadelphia series beginning Friday. Bochy indicated that Zito will be used in multiple-inning situations, as a long reliever would.
Although Zito is accustomed to taking 15 or 20 minutes to warm up before a start, he believed that he can get ready in less than half that time, as a reliever must do, as long as he throws before the game.
"It's a new challenge and that's good," Zito said. "There's a lot of growth and strength that comes out of these things."
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Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.