Instincts and improvisation for Zito
Lefty takes same approach with music and pitching
PITTSBURGH -- Barry Zito plays guitar and carries a musician's soul and temperament to the pitcher's mound.This explains why he doesn't care to get weighted down by lengthy scouting reports, tendencies, numbers and technical checkpoints. It also offers insight into why he focuses on the moment -- pitching for the A's, possibly working an inning or two for the American League on Tuesday night in the All-Star Game -- rather than dwelling on future imponderables, such as where he might be working in 2007 and beyond. "I listen to scouting reports, but I work with intuition," Zito said on Monday. "I don't like to be too concerned with what [hitters] are doing; I like to be concerned with what I'm doing. "Being a musician is a lot about intuition and feel. I like to approach pitching that way, going with my instincts. It's improvisational. "In jazz or with a guitar, you have to learn all your skills, your modes, your notes -- but you go with feel. I know I have to throw the fastball, curveball, slider, but I've got to stop thinking about how it's going to come off the third digit and let it fly." Zito has made one All-Star Game appearance, getting one out in 2002 on three pitches, all fastballs. He was selected to the team in 2003 but, having started the previous Sunday, was replaced on the eve of the game by Roger Clemens. "That was a little jarring," Zito recalled. "I'm available to pitch, which is exciting." With three AL All-Star pitchers -- Jose Contreras, Roy Halladay and Johan Santana -- having started on Sunday, Zito could be in line for more than an inning behind starter Kenny Rogers. "We better have some guys ready to pitch," Zito said. "No matter who's playing, you go out and play your [butt] off. You can't go hang out at parties all night and throw meatballs up there." A Cy Young Award winner in 2002 when he was 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA, Zito is 8-6 at the break with a 3.29 ERA, heading into what could be his final three months in Oakland. An impending free agent, Zito has been dealing with trade rumors for three seasons, he said, so the latest round of speculation is nothing new.
What occupies his mind, the 28-year-old southpaw insists, are Oakland's 45-43 record, its deadlock with Texas for the American League West lead, and taking good care of himself."For me, it's about focusing on the A's, getting us back to the playoffs and staying healthy," Zito said. "I don't see me being traded. We're in first place. ... It's not like we're out of it. We've always had good second halves. If we can get hot, it's a good formula for us. "I came up with the A's. They came out and said they're not going to negotiate [a contract extension] until the end of the year. I think that's good. It allows me to chill out, not worry about a contract hinging on what I do today." Asked if he anticipates spending the rest of his career in the Bay Area, Zito said: "Anything's feasible. I haven't ruled out anything. We do have new ownership, guys who want to sign guys. These are great owners, baseball guys. They want to bring a new stadium to Oakland, with a winning team. "Yeah, that's definitely feasible. You deal with stuff as it happens. I'm just focusing on wearing the green and gold. I've been hearing those trade rumors for three years. I don't pay attention to it." Zito said he feels several teammates -- notably Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez and Dan Haren -- are All-Star caliber players, and that wished he'd have had some company here. A former Oakland teammate, White Sox outfielder Jermaine Dye, was looking forward to spending some time with Zito. "I'm happy for him," Dye said. "He deserves it, especially after having a couple of seasons where he may not have pitched the way he did when he won the Cy Young. "He's a laid-back guy, kind of to himself. He just wants to step on the mound, all about winning and putting his team in the playoffs. He studies the game a lot, studies hitters. That's why he's where he belongs, on the All-Star team. He put in a lot of hard work to be here." Another of Zito's All-Star teammates, Toronto's Troy Glaus, was happy to have Barry on his side for a change. They were AL West rivals when Glaus starred for the Angels. "A lot of guys have nasty stuff but can't throw strikes," Glaus said. "He has the ability to change speeds, and he has that curveball. ... Man, it's tough. I don't have many good memories against him, that's for sure." Glaus is a .216 career hitter against Zito with two homers, six RBIs and nine strikeouts in 37 at-bats.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.