"I want to earn my stature back. I don't expect anybody to give it to me," Zito said. "I want to be a top-of-the-rotation guy again. I want to be out there on Opening Day, getting the win. It's important to me."Zito thinks he bottomed out in 2008 with a 10-17 record, a 5.15 ERA and a 102/120 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Last year, in the No. 2 slot, he bounced back with a 10-13 record, a 4.03 ERA and an 81/154 walk-to-strikeout ratio that was by far his best with the Giants. From July 7 on, his ERA dropped almost a run from a high of 5.01 to his final 4.03. Yet he was only 5-5 during those 16 starts. Bochy said that Zito simply had more command of the strike zone, and he expects that trend to continue. "We all hope he throws the ball like he did last year, he threw the ball well," Bochy said. "His numbers weren't indicative of how well he threw. He went through a 10-game stretch when he was pitching as well as anybody. He was locked in. We just need to get him some runs. He needs that consistency from Game 1 until the end." It's no secret that when Zito has less control of his pitches, they flatten out. If he's high in the zone with his 88-89-mph fastball, hitters just sit on the pitch and whack it. He said pressure early on as a member of the Giants caused him to make numerous mistakes. He's older and more mature now, he said, with his focus where it should be: on baseball. "I had games last year with the same fastball I threw in my Cy Young year, about the same speed," Zito said. "My stuff is generally pretty much the same. I dropped my arm slot a little in '08 and that got me a little bit of velocity back." There's no question about his tact now: "It's about being loose and having fun," Zito said. "When I got here, I wanted to make good on my contract. Now, it's just about going out there and having integrity in my work ethic every day. I'm just trying to stay in the moment." That approach could very well lead him back to the No. 1 slot.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.