San Francisco Chronicle columnist says Giants might release Barry Zito before Opening Day

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Bruce Jenkins is a longtime San Francisco Chronicle writer, so his column today suggesting the Giants may release Barry Zito and eat the remainder of his contract is likely to get a lot of attention, but … well, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Jenkins starts by writing that Zito “is walking a very fine line within the organization” and then says an unnamed source told him “his status as the No. 5 starter is definitely not safe and that the team would even consider buying out his expensive contract before Opening Day if that’s what it takes to say farewell.”

Why would the defending World Series champions suddenly feel the need to ditch Zito? According to Jenkins “there’s a healthy sense of urgency” because “they didn’t clinch a postseason berth until the final game of the 2010 season and they realize that just a single loss–something that could be avoided–could cost them a chance to repeat.”

Huh? So, because the Giants got into the playoffs by a slim margin they’re thinking about releasing a pitcher who threw 199 innings with a perfectly decent 4.15 ERA last season and is still owed $65 million through 2013?

And what kind of logic is “they realize that just a single loss–something that could be avoided–could cost them a chance to repeat”? Every team in baseball is going to lose at least 60 times this season, so referring to “a single loss” as “something that could be avoided” sure seems like nothing more than a lame attempt to stir the pot around Zito.

Jenkins goes on to cite Zito’s lack of offseason conditioning and poor spring training debut, which are certainly legitimate issues, but the notion that they’re ready to ditch him a month before Opening Day rings pretty hollow when Jenkins also writes that “the Giants will take a close look at 16-year veteran Jeff Suppan” as one of the “other options” for the fifth spot in the rotation. The same Jeff Suppan who’s 10-20 with a 5.20 ERA in the past two seasons and hasn’t had an ERA as low as Zito’s 2010 mark since 2006.

There’s no doubt that signing Zito to a seven-year, $126 million contract was a mistake and there’s little doubt that the Giants would have gotten rid of him already if not for the money he’s still owed, but Zito has a 4.09 ERA during the past two seasons and releasing him isn’t going to save any of that money. He’s among the best fifth starters in baseball and is certainly better than Suppan or the Giants’ other options. Maybe Jenkins has inside information, in which case I’ll gladly apologize for doubting him, but until then his column looks like an all-too-familiar attempt to “get people talking” by generating some false controversy.

Struggling Francisco Rodriguez’s job seems to be secure

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Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez continued to struggle on Thursday, allowing a run in a 2-1 loss to the Mariners. It’s the sixth time in nine appearances that the right-handed veteran has allowed a run, bumping his ERA up to 6.23. He’s blown two saves and has two losses on the year.

Despite that, it doesn’t sound like Rodriguez’s job as the Tigers’ closer is in any jeopardy, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports. When asked how much of a leash Rodriguez has, manager Brad Ausmus said, “I’ll let you know.” Ausmus continued, “I think people have short memories. This guy did a pretty good job for us last year. Early on, people were worried because the velocity was down. Well, the velocity is back.”

“But at some point,” Ausmus said, “he does have to pitch the way he pitched last year, because he did an outstanding job for us last year and in a city that has been looking for a closer that was consistent for a long time, he was that.”

Rodriguez, 35, doesn’t have the stuff he once did. And the Tigers do appear to have someone who would be a better option in high-leverage situations. Lefty Justin Wilson has thrown 9 2/3 scoreless, hitless innings so far this season with 15 strikeouts and three walks. But for now, it sounds like Rodriguez will be free to work through his issues.

The Nationals are sad to be leaving Coors Field

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Don’t look now, but the Nationals have the best record in baseball at 16-6. They’re coming off a 10-game road trip in which they went 9-1, including sweeps of the Braves and Mets and a 3-1 series against the Rockies at Coors Field. During that series with the Rockies, the Nationals scored 46 runs, which is nearly as many as the Royals (54) have scored all season long. The Nats scored double-digits in all three wins.

The first game at Coors, an 8-4 loss, saw a three-hit game from Anthony Rendon and a homer from Ryan Zimmerman.

The second game featured Trea Turner hitting for the cycle and driving in seven runs. Daniel Murphy had three hits and five RBI.

The third game saw Turner finish a triple short of the cycle. Bryce Harper had four hits. Zimmerman had three hits including a homer. Murphy homered, too.

The fourth game featured homers from Adam Eaton, Harper, and Murphy. Seven members of the lineup had multiple hits and six had multiple RBI including pitcher Gio Gonzalez.

The series helped the Nationals bring their run differential to +34, the best in the National League. The Yankees are the only team with a better differential at +35.

Indeed, the Nationals are sad to be leaving Coors Field. They return home to open up a three-game set with the ailing Mets on Friday night.