Barry Zito thinks he may be getting back in the groove of things.
After taking a year off, the 2002 American League Cy Young Award winner and three-time All-Star is attempting a comeback with his original club, the Oakland A's, who have assigned him to their Triple-A club in Nashville.
The early returns were not positive, as Zito entered Sunday afternoon's tilt in Nashville against Round Rock with a 5.74 ERA, and he had only lasted into the sixth inning once in his six previous starts.
On Sunday, though, the 6'2”, 205-pound southpaw – who turns 37 on Wednesday –twirled a gem, allowing just four hits while striking out five and walking two en route to pitching seven shutout innings and earning the win in Nashville's 7-0 victory over the Round Rock Express.
Zito retired the last seven batters he faced and 15 of the last 17 after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the second inning.
“My change-up was pretty good today,” Zito said after earning his first regular season win as a member of the A’s organization since 2006. “I ended up throwing the fastball away down in the zone and got some strikeouts looking on 3-2 counts, so I think that was the difference.
“I didn't throw my curveball much today, but there were good results.”
Zito said that didn’t stay away from the curveball because it was ineffective, but because of the game plan.
“I was throwing the ball away a lot more [today] than I usually do,” he said. “I threw the ball in[side] a lot the last game, and away today. You've got to keep mixing it up.”
And mixing it up is just what he did.
While just 60 of Zito's 102 pitches went for strikes, he was able to make the clutch pitch when needed, including two strikeouts of former AL MVP Josh Hamilton, who was making his first rehabilitation start for Round Rock, a Texas Rangers affiliate.
“I've faced Josh a lot over my career, and he's a battle every time,” Zito said. “I got away with a couple [of pitches], but I made a couple of good pitches on him as well.”
Zito said this is just the start of a good run.
“I'm pretty settled in here now,” he said. “There's definitely an adjustment to get into a season again after a year off, so I anticipate there to be more rhythm going forward.
“Just getting back in the five-day [rotation] slot again [is helpful] – in Spring Training, I was coming out of the bullpen a lot, so I didn't have that starting rotation situation happening all the time, (but) I'm starting to feel more comfortable now.”
Zito's next scheduled appearance is Friday at the Iowa Cubs.