Inside Pitch: A's vs. Angels - Game One

The Angels of Anaheim arrive in Oakland on Friday to take on the A's for the first time this season. The two California clubs battled for the AL West division title all year in 2004. The Angels eventually triumphed by one game. So what is on tap for the two teams on the eve of their first match-up?

Who: Angels of Anaheim (5-4)(L-1) vs. Oakland A's (4-5) (W-1)

When: April 15-17

Where: McAfee Coliseum

Series Preview: The Angels come to Oakland to take on the A's for the first three games of what will eventually be 19 contests. Both teams have gotten off to inconsistent starts, with the A's struggling to hit and the Angels struggling with their starting pitching. On Friday, Barry Zito will take the hill for Oakland against Bartolo Colon of the Angels. Here is a look at two of the major issues surrounding the A's and Angels before the start of their three-game set.

The A's Barry Zito Still Feeling His Way

There's no question Barry Zito has taken to the role as leader of the starting rotation. The former Cy Young leader, the old man on the staff at age 26, has gone out of his way to help the younger pitchers on staff.

But unless the results change, it might be a "do as I say, not as I do" because Zito's struggled more than any other starter on the staff. His ERA of 11.57 reads like a typo, but it's accurate.

The A's keep saying there's nothing to worry about. Zito says that. So do manager Ken Macha, pitching coach Curt Young and catcher Jason Kendall. April is traditionally Zito's worst month.

General manager Billy Beane says if his biggest worry if Zito, then the A's will be just fine.

Zito's third start is an important one, the first game of a three-game series Friday against the Angels and the first of 19 meetings against the team that edged the A's for the division title by a game last year.

Zito started the game when the Angels clinched the division, leading 4-2 after seven innings, when he asked to come out of the game. The A's bullpen blew the lead, the game and the season. Earlier in the season, Zito absorbed one of his worst outings ever at the hands of the Angels, giving up nine runs in four innings.

After Zito's last start in Tampa Bay last weekend, he said he's been nitpicking too much, not pounding the strike zone.

It's become a common statement after Zito's starts the last 1 1/2 years, which begs the question: If Zito admits he's not throwing enough strikes, why isn't he doing anything about it?

Perhaps the answer will come Friday against Bartolo Colon and the potent Angels offense.

The Angels Starting Pitching Struggles To Start The Year

The heavily favored Angels have embarked on the 2005 season with a ho-hum start, just a game over .500. And it's no secret what has anchored them. Since opening night, they have had a starting pitcher win a game just once, and that was after a lackluster effort from John Lackey on Tuesday when the bats bailed him out.

Paul Byrd completed a second turn through the Angels' rotation with a start torpedoed by a disastrous fifth inning as the Angels lost 7-5 to the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night.

The Angels feel they have good starting pitchers. It's just that they're not pitching like it.

"I'm frustrated, I'm a little embarrassed and I feel a little snakebit, too," Byrd said. "It's a combination of all those."

It started so promisingly, when Jarrod Washburn and Bartolo Colon combined to allow one run in the first 13 1/3 innings Angels starters worked. Since then, the Angels have had to win despite their starters.

Each of the Angels starters has pitched at least one clunker since then. Lackey and Byrd have pitched two straight sub-par games.

"We've come this far and our starters haven't really spread their wings yet, but we're going to get there," manager Mike Scioscia said. "They're an integral part of what we need to do."

Byrd (0-2) hasn't fooled many hitters thus far. He has allowed 17 hits through his first two starts, but more unusual for him were the three walks he gave up Wednesday. Two of the men he walked scored. After a torrid spring, Byrd hasn't been able to make pitches in tight spots thus far.

"It sounds crazy, but I'm not going to change a thing," Byrd said. "Over the long haul, I think I'll be OK."

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