Barry Zito’s first start in 19 months “was pretty impressive”

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Barry Zito took the mound Thursday for his first game action since 2013 and as far as starts after 19-month layoffs go it was an encouraging one.

Zito, who signed a minor-league deal with the A’s after sitting out last season, struck out two batters in two innings against the Cubs and served up a two-run homer to third baseman Mike Olt.

More importantly, Joe Stiglich of CSNBayArea.com reports that Zito was clocked at 86-89 miles per hour, which doesn’t sound impressive until you consider he averaged 83 miles per hour during his final three seasons with the Giants and the former Cy Young winner always topped out in the 80s.

A’s manager Bob Melvin seemed fairly pleased, telling Stiglich:

His velocity was pretty good. He was consistent at 86. I thought he located his changeup. He threw a couple balls up, but all in all, for a guy who hasn’t pitched in a year, I thought he was pretty impressive. … He throws a changeup down in the zone, and it ends up being a homer. He’s one pitch away from everybody saying how well he pitched.

Melvin stopped well short of suggesting Zito had an inside track on an Opening Day job, but so far at least the reunion looks like a real opportunity to make the team and not just a nostalgia trip. And based on Zito’s candid quotes last week, he’s certainly heavily invested in successfully coming back at age 36.

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.