"It's always good to have something to base confidence off of," admitted Zito, the Giants' scheduled starter for the March 31 regular-season opener at Los Angeles.
For the third game in a row, Zito used his revamped delivery, in which he no longer brings his hands over his head from the windup. His results suggested he had been using this motion through his entire career.
"I'm just trying to get extension out front and keep the ball down," said Zito, acknowledging that his alterations felt more natural.
Said manager Bruce Bochy, "He looked like he was locked in there with all his pitches. When he is, he's going to be tough."
Zito, who had allowed seven runs or more in three of his four Cactus League starts, even recorded his first strikeout of the spring on the 73rd batter he faced. Much to the delight of the pro-Giants crowd of 11,997, Zito's victim was White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who made few friends during his stint in San Francisco in 2004.
Zito, who threw 55 strikes in 96 pitches, finished with four strikeouts. He said that being K-less previously "didn't matter. I wasn't thinking about that stuff."
Zito, who refused to dwell on his rocky Spring Training performances, insisted that he'll take the same approach with this one.
"I'm not going to think about today tomorrow," Zito said. "I've got work to do tomorrow. I'll focus on my next start, focus on my next bullpen [session] and getting my release point more locked in. It was what it was, a good result. But to pat myself on the back, I'm not going to do that."
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Keiichi Yabu and Tyler Walker protected the 2-0 lead Zito bequeathed, but closer Brian Wilson surrendered three ninth-inning runs. Undaunted, the Giants rallied on Dan Ortmeier's one-out, bad-hop single, Steve Holm's RBI double and pinch-hitter Eliezer Alfonzo's run-scoring single. Alfonzo, who may have secured the backup catcher's job earlier in the day when Guillermo Rodriguez was optioned to Triple-A Fresno, was batting .075 (3-for-40) at the time.
"I tried to work more with my top hand and tried to stay through the middle of the field," Alfonzo said.
The Giants remained at less than full strength. Bochy said that second baseman Ray Durham (left hamstring) felt improved, but wasn't quite ready to play, and that infielder Kevin Frandsen (left Achilles) could return Monday. Catcher Bengie Molina remained out of town for the second day in a row to attend to personal matters, but he is expected to return Saturday.
Bochy again hinted that right-hander Vinnie Chulk (shoulder) could begin the season on the disabled list.
"Unless we think he's ready, it's hard to put him out there," Bochy said.
That could open up a spot for Yabu, who escaped a first-and-third, two-out jam in the sixth and retired all four batters he faced. He trimmed his ERA to 2.77.
Bochy stopped short of saying that Yabu has an edge over other competitors for a bullpen role.
"It's close, I'll say that," Bochy said. "We have a very difficult decision on who's going to break [camp] with us. The way he has pitched certainly makes it difficult, which is what you want at this point."