Zito ready to put rough first half with Giants in the past Print
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Thursday, 12 July 2007 14:56
MLB Headline News

 SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -Barry Zito had a forgettable first half.
The San Francisco Giants' $126 million man performed little like someone with the richest contract ever for a pitcher - and he knows it. He's as dissatisfied and perplexed by his poor results as anybody and ready to redeem himself after the All-Star break.
``I like where I'm at right now. Every day's a learning experience,'' Zito said. ``I definitely expect more out of myself. The fans do and should and ownership should. I look forward to just being back to where I should be and having a strong second half.''
The left-hander has an impressive career record in the second half, too: 59-27 with a 3.26 ERA in 108 starts during his first seven big league seasons with the Oakland Athletics. San Francisco hopes that trend will continue, beginning with his next start against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.
``I know that's his track record,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. ``That's why we think things will get better in the second half, and we have to get better. Barry has to relax a little more. I think he's put added pressure on himself with his numbers not being where he wants.''
And it's impossible not to wonder whether the Giants are asking themselves if they did the right thing making a seven-year commitment to the 28-year-old Zito. His nine losses at the break are a career high, he has dropped his last four decisions and is winless in six starts since a victory May 30 at New York. That has caused many baseball experts to question his worth.
``I can't concern myself with all of the external things. It's been an adjustment,'' Zito said. ``I'll take it from this point in the season and go forward and be solid.''
Zito dropped the season opener 7-0 to San Diego on April 3 - the Giants' first opening-day shutout since 1967 - and his final start of the first half by the same score last Sunday in St. Louis. His 52 walks at the break are on pace to give him a career high.
Zito's move to the National League began with the pitcher's spring training announcement that he had changed his delivery, but he then went back to his old motion the very next time he took the mound.
That's after pitching coach Dave Righetti went as far as to say the tweaks Zito made in the offseason might have caused him to lose his dominant curveball and wear down his body. Zito has never missed a start in his career.
He joined the Giants in late December, three weeks after the club originally came to terms on a one-year contract with slugger Barry Bonds for a 15th season.
As much as Zito insisted he wouldn't let the big contract affect him on the mound, most general managers and baseball executives say it's nearly impossible for players not to have that in the back of their mind.
``He's battling himself, no question about it,'' Bochy said. ``His biggest problem is he's beaten himself with walks. He's not missing by much when he does. ... Barry was signed because of the kind of quality pitcher he is. Hopefully he doesn't expect us to think he'll go out and go 20-1 because of the contract.''
Zito's certainly not the first in this spot.
Previously, the largest contract for a pitcher was Mike Hampton's $121 million, eight-year deal with the Colorado Rockies before the 2001 season. Kevin Brown received a $105 million deal from 1999-05. Both players have dealt with injury problems and struggled, Brown going 72-45 during his contract and Hampton posting a 53-48 record. He hasn't pitched since '05, sidelined all of this year with a season-ending elbow injury.
Zito is determined not to let outside influences interfere with his focus.
He headed home to Southern California for the All-Star break and planned to talk over his first-half problems with his father and confidant, Joe. He acknowledges he needs to trust himself again.
``Pitchers don't usually have bad games unless they're doing those things. When you second guess your stuff sometimes, you try to be too fine. Any pitcher who struggles in a game, those things are going on,'' Zito said. ``It's a little more magnified. That's not my job to worry about that either. For me it's about going out and being myself.''
Since winning the AL Cy Young award with 23 victories in 2002, Zito hasn't had that kind of success. Many believe he's never been the same since former A's pitching coach Rick Peterson took off for the New York Mets after the 2003 season.
With a locker next to Bonds in the far corner of the Giants' clubhouse, Zito will always have No. 25 to lend a friendly ear. His teammates figure their high-priced starter will find a way to turn things around - and soon.
``The guy prepares himself as well as anybody,'' center fielder Dave Roberts said. ``He loves to go out there and compete. We definitely expect him to be the Barry Zito we've all known.''
Zito allowed 21 runs in the first two innings of his 18 starts before the break. In the shutout by the Cardinals on July 8, he went only four innings for the third time in his last six outings and has a 7.12 ERA during the stretch.
It hasn't help his chances that the Giants' struggling offense is having a tough time scoring enough runs for any of its pitchers.
``I'm not worried about run support. It's not something I can really focus on,'' Zito said. ``For me, I just have to go out and do my job, be the guy that I am. Be myself. It's about relaxing, trusting. Physically I feel good. I expect there to be results ahead.''
 

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