Zito reports to camp ready for season
Newly acquired staff ace strengthened his core during winter
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Pitcher Barry Zito is the new kid on the Giants block, but it didn't take long -- maybe five minutes -- to get settled in the Scottsdale Stadium clubhouse on Wednesday.As in sitting in Barry Bonds' seat. As in the superstar's corner. As in carrying his gear in a -- horrors -- Oakland A's bag.
"I guess I don't know any better," he joked.Not to worry. Zito's cubicle is two down from Bonds' locker -- there is an empty one in between -- and while the Giants' $126 million man could supposedly sit anywhere he pleased, he did shift to a stool under his own name, vowing he's cool with Bonds, that he'll be Bonds' buffer to the media, that they've already chatted in person. "We'll be sitting together in the season, too," said Zito. "Barry and I have a good relationship, and if I can somehow lighten the load off him ... you guys can have a hard right to his locker and start talking to me." The 28-year-old hurler said the two "shot the breeze" at UCLA's training facilities over the winter and noted Bonds' body "looked amazing -- he's ready to go." There's still a matter of Bonds signing his $15.8 million contract, however. "Just details," laughed Zito, who threw lightly with relief pitcher Steve Kline on the stadium field and reported he's added 10 pounds of muscle, mainly in his legs. "I don't need to impress you guys with biceps," said Zito, his stronger core compliments of a rigorous 10 weeks of workouts, featuring squats and bench presses with weights and stabilization exercises. In the past few seasons, Zito wasn't fit enough at the outset, and his stats were weak as well. And come September his legs were becoming rubberized, again causing strength issues on the mound, so he promised the offseason would be productive. "My legs are a lot stronger now -- those pounds make a big difference," he said. "But I shut that down the past two weeks so I could concentrate on throwing."
And runnning. Like on the basepaths, where he hopes to find himself this season after successfully hitting the ball, which he has never practiced in his seven-year career."I never took batting seriously -- there was no reason to take time out of my day to get five at-bats in a year," said Zito. "But now I can make a difference every game I'm in. "I've swung it for the past month, laying bunts down and stuff like that," he said. "My friend Brady Anderson was helping me out." So far, the transition for Zito from an Oaklander to a San Franciscan has been seamless, without a hitch. He even wore a Giants cap during his winter stay in Los Angeles, but only when he was driving or working out. He doesn't need the look-at-me attention.
Big star, big ego, right? Not Zito. He's a confident man, but there's not an arrogant bone in his now-stronger body, and he was making fast friends with players of all levels on Report Day, hardly pushing his weight around.Make no mistake, though, the Giants are counting on Zito to be their staff ace, and their franchise face into the future. The 2002 American League Cy Young Award winner has never missed a start in his Major League career, and his winter work ethic proved to the San Francisco brass that he's determined to get better, not live off past performances or reputation. He's already geared to carry a significant burden, on and off the mound, helping the young pitchers, helping each other. "Our goal now is to win a world championship," he said. "I feel it's my job as staff leader to help the kids. We have a veteran lineup and a dominant team. It's a good mix." Report Day for position players is next Monday, and it's questionable whether Bonds will be eligible to appear. Contracts must be inked before then.
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.