Including last year’s postseason, the Giants are riding a streak of 16 straight victories with Barry Zito on the mound. The left-hander pitched seven scoreless innings and went 2-for-3 with two runs scored Wednesday in a 10-0 drubbing of the Rockies.
Zito posted a 1.69 ERA in his three postseason starts last year, and he’s yet to allow a run in 14 innings in 2013.
Perhaps no one but me is thinking of next year right now, but at the rate Zito is going, the Giants might actually pick up his $18 million option for 2014, a possibility that would have seemed preposterous at pretty much any point since the first year of his seven-year, $126 million contract.
The key there is the $7 million buyout attached to said option, meaning the Giants will essentially have to decide whether they think Zito will be worth $11 million in 2014. Or perhaps the decision will be made for him; the option vests automatically if Zito throws 200 innings this year. He hasn’t reached that mark since 2006, his last year with Oakland, but it probably goes hand-in-hand with the Giants’ decision anyway. If Zito throws 200 innings or very close to it, he’ll probably be someone the Giants will want around at $11 million for 2014.
Of course, that’s all a long way off. The Giants will just enjoy the ride for now, since there’s no telling whether it will last. If you remember, Zito started with a 1.67 ERA in four starts last April, then posted ERAs of 4.94, 4.54, 4.07 and 6.46 the following four months before rebounding in September. In 2010, Zito started 4-0 with a 1.53 ERA in April and then went 5-14 with a 4.72 ERA the rest of the way.
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.