Stronger Schmidt eyes first start

Stronger Schmidt eyes first start of new season

There were times last season when right-hander Jason Schmidt felt as if he was on a different planet's mound -- out of sorts, out of sync, and definitely out of confidence -- due to a lifeless arm and mental fog, and his 12-7 record and 4.40 ERA reflected the metaphysical and physical woes.

Hard to explain -- and the 33-year-old couldn't pinpoint the reason.

That was last season. Enter the new Schmidt, vastly healthier thanks to rigorous offseason workouts, with stronger legs and a renewed sense of well-being that should translate into a solid year, perhaps equaling those 17- and 18-victory campaigns of 2003 and 2004.

Schmidt recalls with disappointment that the "life" at the end of his fastball was AWOL last year, but now that last-millisecond zip has come back with startlingly successful results. He had a spectacular spring, 180 degrees from his arm woes a season ago, with strikeouts coming in bunches.

Over his initial four starts, Schmidt fanned 13 batters, and he extended himself by lasting seven innings in a win over the Colorado Rockies on March 24.

So much for 2005.

It didn't help that the Giants struggled as a team overall last year, with one element always in a slump, whether it was the starting rotation, a depleted-by-circumstances bullpen, at times a shaky defense or struggling offense.

And the pressure was all on Schmidt's shoulder, as No. 2 Kirk Rueter's funk lasted nearly all season until the lefty was released, while Brett Tomko had dismal luck and Noah Lowry lost as many games (13) as he won.

It's turnaround time now.

"Once the season starts, the concentration level goes up another level, so I've been pretty happy this spring," said Schmidt, who sported a 2.00 ERA over his first four Cactus League games and felt his diligent winter exercise program perhaps will pay big dividends.

"It could," he said. "I can't say for sure, but that was my goal this winter -- to get some groin issues straightened out and a few other things, and I definitely feel a lot stronger than I did.

"I have my legs under me now."

Last season, he didn't seem to have his right arm attached, either, and while the Giants listed his injury as a shoulder strain in May, Schmidt wasn't sure what the problem was.

He said it was a "dead arm," and few would disagree. His Cy Young Award-contending years of 2003 and 2004 seemed far away, and the big man was frustrated that his fastball speed wasn't there, yet Schmidt learned that stealth and other pitches -- given the proper location -- could be just as effective.

But Schmidt seems twice as strong now.

And so do the Giants.

Pitching matchup
SF: RHP Jason Schmidt
• 12-7, 4.40 ERA in 2005
• 0-2, 7.58 ERA in 2005 vs. SD
• 10-8, 4.76 ERA lifetime vs. SD

SD: RHP Jake Peavy
• 13-7, 2.88 ERA in 2005
• 1-0, 1.71 ERA in 2005 vs. SF
• 6-3, 3.31 ERA lifetime vs. SF

  Giants probable lineup
 Pos.Name
1.CFRandy Winn
2.SSOmar Vizquel
3.2BRay Durham
4.LFBarry Bonds
5.RFMoises Alou
6.3BPedro Feliz
7.1BLance Niekro
8.CMike Matheny
9.PJason Schmidt

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• SF: FSN, ESPN2
• SD: Ch. 4, ESPN2

On radio
• SF: KNBR 680
• SD: XPRS AM 1090, XEMO 860 AM (Español)

On deck
• Tuesday: at San Diego, 7:05 p.m. PT
• Wednesday: at San Diego, 7:05 p.m. PT
• Thursday: vs. Atlanta, 1:05 p.m. PT

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