Dickey: Seeing Zito in a dimmer Ray of light

Is Barry Zito the reincarnation of Ray Sadecki? In 1966, the Giants traded for Sadecki, thinking they were getting the left-handed starter they needed to win the pennant.

Two years earlier, at 23, Sadecki won 20 games for the St. Louis Cardinals, but he felt tremendous pressure because he was traded for Orlando Cepeda, the most popular Giant. In four seasons with the Giants, Sadecki was 32-39. Cepeda was the NL Most Valuable Player in 1967 and the Cardinals won the World Series.

The Giants didn’t have to trade anybody for Zito, but they paid him a record $126 million for seven years as a free agent. So far, they’ve gotten only two good games for that, both in April, when he threw six shutout innings against Colorado and followed with seven shutout innings against Arizona.

His other seven outings have ranged from mediocre to hide-your-eyes bad, as in the A’s 16-3 rout of the Giants on Friday. Zito gave up the first seven runs in just four innings.

Overall, he’s 3-5 with a 5.13 ERA.

Giants fans may console themselves with the rationale that Zito is a slow starter; he was 0-4 in April in 2005. But Zito’s slow starts were often the result of correspondingly slow starts by the A’s, who were 20-32 at the end of May in that 2005 season. Last year, Zito was 3-3 at this point.

Frankly, I thought Zito would get off to a good start this season because he’s pitching to less-powerful lineups, without the DH and to batters who aren’t familiar with him. But NL hitters seem to have caught on to him early and, when he faced hitters who already knew him, it was like batting practice for the A’s.

You have to ask yourself if he’s trying too hard to prove that he can be the “face of the franchise” pitcher the Giants thought they were getting. If so, he and the Giants are both in trouble because he hasn’t been that kind of pitcher since he won the AL Cy Young Award in 2002.

In 2002, he was a very confident pitcher, able to throw the ball where he wanted, spotting his fastball and getting hitters out with his 12-to-6 curveball.

Since then, umpires have often refused to call that curve a strike, so hitters have laid off it. Zito has turned into a nibbler and his walks have risen. Last year, he walked a career-high 99 in 221 innings and also tied an Oakland record with 13 hit batters. So far this year, his walk ratio is even higher, 28 in 54¹/³ innings.

Confidence is vital to a pitcher. Sadecki had the pitches to be a winner but feeling the pressure, he couldn’t make them. Zito has that Zen-like attitude that seems to exude confidence, but he’s not pitching like that. The other four Giants starters, Matt Morris, Noah Lowry and wunderkinds Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, have all pitched much better. Zito’s downtrending stats suggested a No. 3 starter when he signed, but he hasn’t pitched even that well.

The Giants were very disappointed in Sadecki, but in that baseball world, they could cut him loose after four seasons. The current Giants are on the hook with Zito for seven years. It’s looking as if they will be very long years.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.


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