Two starts into the experience of pitching with the expectations of a seven-year, $126 million deal, Zito was 0-2 with an 8.18 ERA. And now he faced a start on seven days' rest due to consecutive rainouts, in the mile-high altitude of hitter-friendly Coors Field.
The plan was simple but exact: Regain command of his fastball on both sides of the plate. And Zito executed it as he has done so many times while wearing a green and gold uniform. This time, he had his first victory in Giants colors, an impressive 8-0 shutout of the Colorado Rockies on Monday night.
"Now all that is behind me, and I get to relax and be my normal self again," Zito said. "Not so much Opening Day, but my last start, I tried to have a good game, and tried to be too fine. I wasn't as aggressive as I wanted to be. This time, I tried to be aggressive in the [strike] zone, and it worked. I got the bad one out of the way against the Dodgers."
There was nothing bad about Zito on Monday, as he allowed only three hits and three walks while striking out four in six innings. He retired 11 in a row to start the game before walking Garrett Atkins with two out in the fourth, and allowed his first hit one batter later -- a single by Todd Helton. Zito escaped his only jam by striking out Jamey Carroll with the bases loaded to end the fifth.
And now you can count manager Bruce Bochy among the relieved, too.
"If it had gone on much longer, it probably would have gotten in his head a little bit," Bochy said. "He's got a lot of pride. He gave us a great effort, just what we needed. He made his pitches when he had to."
Vinnie Chulk, Kevin Correia and Steve Kline tossed scoreless innings to back up Zito, and the Giants had their second shutout at Coors Field, the other coming on July 17, 2004, when Jason Schmidt was the winning pitcher.
Not that success in Coors Field was an entirely new experience for Zito, as he threw seven strong innings in a no-decision last season on a visit with the Oakland A's. That experience taught him that his vintage curveball may not show up as often in the thin air, so to compliment his fastball, he turned more to his changeup.
"When you leave [a curveball] up here, it stays up," Zito said. "I'm used to my curveball coming down. I know what my changeup is going to be. Since I've been in the big leagues, I've always said that my changeup may not be my best pitch, but it's my most important pitch. It gets me out of a lot of jams. These guys have curveball in their mind, but my changeup is another tool for me."
After getting rained out on successive days in Pittsburgh, the Giants faced a Monday night forecast for more of the wet stuff, but it never materialized. Then they rained runs on Rockies starter Jeff Francis (1-1) and three relievers, producing eight runs for the second game in a row.
Ray Durham delivered the game's decisive blow, a three-run homer off Francis (1-1) in the third inning that just cleared the wall in right-center field and landed in the Rockies' bullpen.
"When he hit it, I didn't think it was going out," Bochy said. "But he's so strong. He's not a big guy, but he's got good power."
One batter later, Bengie Molina didn't think his shot to left field was going out, but it landed several rows up, giving the Giants their first back-to-back homers of the season.
"I got it a little off the end of the bat," Molina said. "I didn't think at all that it had a chance to go out."
Omar Vizquel -- a week shy of his 40th birthday -- contributed four singles and drove in two runs, and the Giants totaled 13 hits, seven of which went for extra bases.
"[Offense] was one of our problems a week ago," Bochy said. "We know we have to put runs on the board, and we know we're capable of doing it. We did some of the little things, too. We moved some guys over. That was a well-played game by the offense."
Tony DeMarco is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less