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04/11/09 3:08 AM ET

Zito's rough first too much for Giants

San Francisco can't cash in on prime chance in sixth

SAN DIEGO -- Barry Zito still has time to climb toward a bright season. But he stumbled on the first step Friday.

Maintaining his tendency for unsteady beginnings, Zito lasted only four innings in his 2009 debut as the Giants fell to the San Diego Padres, 7-3.

Zito allowed four runs and seven hits as his career record for March and April fell to 13-25 with a 5.21 ERA. This marked the sixth consecutive season in which he has lost his initial start.

"That was frustrating, because I felt great tonight," Zito said. "I had great stuff, great stuff in the bullpen and I felt good all spring. It's just a shame to start this out here not being myself, not doing what I can do."

All too fittingly, Zito struggled at the outset. He threw 39 pitches in the first inning while allowing three runs. Giants manager Bruce Bochy noticed that Zito was rushing his delivery, which caused him to elevate his pitches. Zito acknowledged this flaw.

"I was fired up a little bit," Zito said. "I wanted to come out and get that first inning going."

Instead, the first three Padres batters reached base safely against Zito. Scott Hairston singled and David Eckstein walked on four pitches before Brian Giles pulled a fastball to deep right field for an RBI double. Adrian Gonzalez's groundout scored Eckstein. Kevin Kouzmanoff singled to shallow right over a drawn-in infield, sending home Gonzalez.

Zito looked sharp over the next two innings, striking out three. But the Padres nagged Zito again in his final inning, striking with two outs and nobody on base as Eckstein doubled and Giles singled.

Zito lamented not being tougher on Eckstein, who entered the game batting .217 (10-for-46) off him.

"That's what really bugs me," Zito said.

Though Zito may always bear the expectations created by the seven-year, $126 million deal he signed with the Giants before the 2007 campaign, this season conceivably shapes up as a less pressurized one for him. As part of a rotation that includes Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson and the budding Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, Zito won't be regarded as the Giants' savior.

Simply avoiding last season's 0-6 start would represent improvement.

"I've come a long way since last year," Zito said. "Obviously the result [Friday] is not good. ... But I'm eager to go out there next Thursday and be in control of myself."

Bochy maintained confidence in the left-hander.

"Really, he's been throwing the ball well and he did after that [first] inning," Bochy said. "But that inning counts."

The focus of the Giants' frustration shifted to the offense after Zito departed. Trailing, 4-1, the Giants initiated the kind of rally in the sixth inning that they sustained on multiple occasions in the season-opening series against Milwaukee. Their first four batters hit safely as Edgar Renteria doubled, Fred Lewis singled, Bengie Molina blooped an RBI single and Pablo Sandoval singled to load the bases and finish Padres starter Shawn Hill.

But San Diego reliever Luke Gregerson subdued the Giants by forcing Travis Ishikawa's grounder to first baseman Gonzalez, the 2008 Gold Glove Award winner who started a quick 3-2-3 double ply. Aaron Rowand, the Giants' most all-around productive hitter in the Milwaukee series, marooned Molina and Sandoval in scoring position by striking out.

"That was the turning point in the game," Bochy said of Ishikawa's at-bat. "We had them on the ropes. Ishi looked like he had a good pitch to hit. He just hit it to the wrong guy."

After a one-year sabbatical, Hairston resumed tormenting the Giants. With Lewis on first base and nobody out in the eighth, Molina launched a drive toward the left-center-field seats. But Hairston robbed Molina of a hit and possibly a game-tying home run by leaping to the top of the wall to make the catch.

"If that ball goes off the wall or goes out, you're looking good," Bochy said.

Hairston, who hit seven of his 11 homers in 2007 against the Giants, settled matters by clobbering a three-run homer off Merkin Valdez in the eighth.

"It happens," Hairston said. "I really can't say. I don't prepare any differently when we play the Giants."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.