Zito penciled for home opener as Giants set rotation

Zito penciled for home opener as Giants set rotation
February 22, 2013, 12:00 pm
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Now entering the final guaranteed year of that mega-contract, Barry Zito’s popularity is at its peak. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – If not for Barry Zito, the Giants’ playoff run would’ve stalled out in St. Louis last October.

It’s fitting, then, that Zito will be on the mound when the Giants raise the World Series banner for their home opener April 5 – and the Cardinals will be on the other side, too.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy penciled in his rotation order on Friday, subject to all the usual caveats. Barring a change, opening-day starter Matt Cain would be followed by Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum during the lid-lifting series at Dodger Stadium. Zito would pitch the home opener at AT&T Park, with Ryan Vogelsong going the following day.

It’s not often that a pitcher of Vogelsong’s stature and accomplishments will open as the No.5 starter. But the Giants don’t have an ordinary rotation, do they?

“All of us believe we’re the No.1 guy every time out there,” Cain said. “For Z to have that home opener is great for him, especially with all he’s been through and what he did for us.”

Bochy made it clear the rotation alignment didn’t reflect a pecking order.

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“I don’t want them to get caught up in it and I don’t want to send any kind of message with it, either,” Bochy said. “Knock on wood, if they all stay healthy, they’ll get the same number of starts.”

As most managers prefer, Bochy wanted to split up his lefties (Bumgarner and Zito). And putting Vogelsong fifth will allow plenty of flexibility in the right-hander’s preparations this spring; he’s the only member of the starting five who will participate in the World Baseball Classic.

It has the added benefit of giving the honor of the home opener to Zito, who was the Giants’ opening-day pitcher in 2007 and ’08 – the first two seasons after signing his seven-eyar, $126 million contract.

Zito recalled giving up “three in five” against the San Diego Padres in that first assignment – not a disaster by any stretch. But not the kind of outing expected, given his paycheck.

The left-hander finally fulfilled expectations in that do-or-die start at Busch Stadium, throwing 7 2/3 scoreless innings to get the series back to San Francisco. Then he came through again with a solid outing against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series.

Now entering the final guaranteed year of that mega-contract, Zito’s popularity is at its peak.

“It’s going to be exciting – a great vibe from the fans – and playing the Cardinals will be great,” Zito said. “I have no idea what’s going to happen, obviously, because I can’t predict the future. But mechanically and timing wise, I feel better than I did.

“They’ve got a great lineup and it’ll be a good jumpstart, going up against some of the best teams in the National League right away.

“I know what I have to do.”

Something like his debut start last year, when he threw a highly surprising shutout at Coors Field?

“Well,” he said, “the air’s a little friendlier in San Francisco.”

In every respect.

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Vogelsong will pitch the Cactus League opener against the Angels on Saturday, with Cain taking the mound on Sunday, Bochy said.. Bumgarner would make his exhibition debut Monday, Lincecum would go Tuesday and Zito is scheduled to follow Vogelsong’s outing on Wednesday. 

Brad Mills will start for the Angels’ split squad at Scottsdale Stadium. Former Giant Jerome Williams was tabbed to start for the Angels’ other squad against the Cubs.

Bochy said Buster Posey will catch Vogelsong. Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence are the other regulars he's planning to play.

No word yet on whether Scott Cousins will be on the list to play the Giants. He and Posey haven't been on the same field since Cousins speared Posey in the home-plate collision that ended the catcher's season May 25, 2011.

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