Notes: Zito already in fine form

Notes: Zito already in fine form

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The date was March 15, but the Giants wouldn't have minded if it were April 3.

Barry Zito, who'll start the April 3 opener against San Diego at AT&T Park, looked regular-season ready in the Giants' 7-6 split-squad exhibition loss Thursday to the Kansas City Royals.

Zito allowed two runs on four hits in the first inning, but no-hit the Royals afterward while accumulating four of his five strikeouts. Zito recorded strikeouts by using his fastball, curveball and changeup, a variety that reflected his sharpness.

"Burying that fastball in to righties is the biggest thing I need to do right now," Zito said. "Like I've said before, the offspeed's usually there most every time. The fastball inside sets up the offspeed. ... That's why the offspeed was more effective in the later innings today because the fastballl was setting stuff up."

The Royals' runs off Zito were earned, yet tainted. His former A's teammate, Esteban German, chopped an infield single to open Kansas City's first. Alex Gordon singled to right field and took second on Randy Winn's fielding error. Mike Sweeney's two-run single was a grounder that scooted under first baseman Mark Sweeney's glove.

The Giants righted themselves during the next three innings. Shortstop Omar Vizquel excelled as much as Zito, making slick plays on grounders in the third and fourth innings.

Zito likely will have three more exhibition starts before pitching the opener. He believes he'll keep building momentum until then.

"There are alleged dead-arm phases now; there are alleged dead-arm phases in June, July and August. I've never really experienced it," he said. "I think it's more a function of your mechanics. If your mechanics are clean, the ball is going to come out crisp."

Thinking man: Coming off a season in which he batted .300 for only the second time in his career, Rich Aurilia believes that experience has made him a more intelligent hitter.

"I think my thought patterns have gotten better as I've gotten older," said Aurilia, who's entering his 12th season at age 35. "I'm not saying that I'm a better player than I was. There are a few people in this game who are better players at 35 than they were at 28, 29 or 30. But I do think I'm a smarter player than I was -- a smarter hitter, taking advantage of what's given me and not trying to do too much in a certain situation."

Aurilia, whose only other .300 season came in 2001 (.324), has never drawn walks frequently. But he cited patience to illustrate his deeper understanding of hitting.

"If they're going to walk you, take the walk," he said. "On an individual level, 1-for-3 is better than 1-for-4. But on a team level, you got on base two out of four times instead of one out of four times."

Spring Training
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Spring Training info: coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

Sanchez starts: Jonathan Sanchez looked understandably shaky but showed hints of his talent during his two-inning outing in Thursday night's split-squad game against Seattle in Peoria, Ariz.

Making only his third Cactus League appearance -- he didn't pitch until March 7 due to a mild case of tendinitis -- Sanchez allowed two runs and four hits. He issued two walks but struck out three, occasionally confounding hitters with his mixture of fastballs and breaking pitches.

Sanchez, who threw 34 strikes in 52 pitches, escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first inning by retiring Richie Sexson on a first-pitch popup and striking out Jeff Clement on four pitches.

Sanchez faltered with one out in the second inning. He walked Jose Lopez after forging ahead on the count, 0-2, then yielded a home run to Yuniesky Betancourt on a 1-0 pitch. With Mariners on the corners, Sanchez ended the inning by striking out Raul Ibanez.

Briefly: The Giants' starting lineup for the afternoon game against Kansas City was heavy with regulars. By contrast, the lineup for the night game against Seattle included only one regular, third baseman Pedro Feliz. ... Vinnie Chulk's ERA rose from 1.59 to 5.14 as he surrendered three runs and five hits in 1 1/3 innings. Manager Bruce Bochy wasn't critical of Chulk, pointing out that he gave the right-hander a second inning of work in an attempt to build his stamina.

Coming up: Tim Lincecum, the Giants' No. 1 pick in last year's First-Year Player Draft, will receive another chance to test himself against Major Leaguers on Friday when the Giants entertain the Colorado Rockies in Scottsdale, Ariz. Lincecum is expected to relieve starter Matt Cain. Armando Benitez is expected to make his third spring appearance as he continues to compete with Brian Wilson for the closer's role. Byung-Hyun Kim will start for Colorado.

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