Let’s play a little game of before and after.
Before Bochy’s announcement that Barry Zito was moving to the bullpen: no worry or even knowledge about Zito’s struggles or his contract nationally, derisive comments and snickering from baseball fans.
After Bochy told everyone with a tape recorder and a byline that Zito would be moving to the pen: in the worst economy in years, every American with an Internet connection whose home page isn’t MySpace knows there’s a $126 million pitcher who sucks (before thinking hey, didn’t he used to go out with Alyssa Milano?), derisive comments and snickering from baseball fans.
What happened in the bullpen that got Zito promoted so quickly back to the starting rotation today? Did he go big one day at Maverick’s before the road trip (don’t forget the flip-flops), causing him to suddenly gain five mph on his fastball? Did he get struck by lightning last night, causing him to become the best knuckleballer the world has ever seen (complete with a brand new cape with “Z” on the back)?
Either this means Matt Cain’s hamstring injury from Saturday’s start in Philly is worse than the Giants are letting on, or this was one of the stupidest and worst-laid plans in the Bochy era.
Maybe Bochy just thinks anybody who misses a start is technically “in the bullpen” because they could be called upon at any time. But he has to know the word “bullpen” itself can have negative connotations, usually when regarding a former elite starter. Sure, Zito will say all the right things about the week and a half break allowing him to be “objective” about his pitching (whatever that means), but what else is he going to do? Besides Brad Hennessey, he’s pretty much the only member of the team whose only contributions have been negative, so he has to at least pretend like everything’s great and getting better.
If Bochy thought a low-profile game at Pittsburgh was a good time to sneak Zito back in, he can’t be happy seeing the Pirates tag Jonathan Sanchez, Hennessey and the boys for 12 runs tonight. Just slotting Zito in between Cain and Tim Lincecum isn’t going to make Zito any less prone to six-run first innings. The only way a demotion to the bullpen can really help Zito is if he’s given weeks to get right, pick up a new pitch, figure out something. All Zito’s probably been doing in his seven “bullpen” days is try to avoid hearing or reading about the national joke his professional life has become, throw a couple times in the dugout and think more about what he needs to do to escape from his own head.
If keeping Zito out of the rotation long term was what Bochy planned to do all along, and Cain’s next start needs to be pushed maybe beyond even Thursday, it would let Bochy off the hook slightly. However, it would further question what Brian Sabean and his band of fighting Tidrows have been doing with the Giants system. The lack of position players is supposedly due to their emphasis on pitching in the draft, and there’s nobody else who can fill the fifth starter role for a couple weeks other than Pat Misch?
This means maybe the worst news about this whole “Zito to the pen” fiasco is that it’s shown the Giants will take an even longer time to get better. The way teams improve is to trade from their strengths to fill holes. Isn’t it now obvious the Giants don’t have a stockpile of anything to trade?
Now everyone knows that too, along with the fact that Zito is on pace to be the biggest free agent disappointment in baseball history. For somebody who seemed to be crumbling under the pressure of his contract, it’ll be interesting to see how all this extra publicity could actually help anybody involved.