Zito set to debut Thursday

Back with original team, lefty hasn't pitched in a game since 2013

Zito set to debut Thursday

MESA, Ariz. -- Barry Zito will be back in game action for the first time since 2013 on Thursday, when the A's lefty is scheduled to make his first Cactus League start in a road meeting with the Cubs.

The A's have another southpaw, Brad Mills, on tap for their Tuesday opener against the Giants at Hohokam Stadium. On Wednesday, it's the Giants' turn to host the A's in Scottsdale, Ariz., in another early spring match between the Bay rivals, with right-hander Jesse Chavez on the mound for Oakland.

The 36-year-old Zito, in camp on a Minor League deal with the team that drafted him 16 years ago, last pitched in a game on Sept. 29, 2013, for the Giants, who declined the veteran's $18 million club option for '14 shortly after.

At that point, Zito stepped away from the game, started a family with his wife, Amber, and assessed his next move. Soon, he was making preparations for a comeback, studying the same mechanics and delivery that made him one of the game's best pitchers in the early 2000s.

He is one of several candidates for just three open spots in the A's rotation.

"I have a fresh perspective," Zito said last week. "I've got my passion back, and I just want to continue to work hard and go out and enjoy competing. I guess you could say I'm competing against all these guys, but for me, it's more about competing against myself.

"If I can be as good as I know I can be every time out here, I know the rest will take care of itself."

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