Notes: Zito already in fine form
Aurilia a smarter hitter; Sanchez allows two runs vs. Mariners
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The date was March 15, but the Giants wouldn't have minded if it were April 3.Barry Zito, who'll start the April 3 opener against San Diego at AT&T Park, looked regular-season ready in the Giants' 7-6 split-squad exhibition loss Thursday to the Kansas City Royals. Zito allowed two runs on four hits in the first inning, but no-hit the Royals afterward while accumulating four of his five strikeouts. Zito recorded strikeouts by using his fastball, curveball and changeup, a variety that reflected his sharpness. "Burying that fastball in to righties is the biggest thing I need to do right now," Zito said. "Like I've said before, the offspeed's usually there most every time. The fastball inside sets up the offspeed. ... That's why the offspeed was more effective in the later innings today because the fastballl was setting stuff up." The Royals' runs off Zito were earned, yet tainted. His former A's teammate, Esteban German, chopped an infield single to open Kansas City's first. Alex Gordon singled to right field and took second on Randy Winn's fielding error. Mike Sweeney's two-run single was a grounder that scooted under first baseman Mark Sweeney's glove. The Giants righted themselves during the next three innings. Shortstop Omar Vizquel excelled as much as Zito, making slick plays on grounders in the third and fourth innings. Zito likely will have three more exhibition starts before pitching the opener. He believes he'll keep building momentum until then. "There are alleged dead-arm phases now; there are alleged dead-arm phases in June, July and August. I've never really experienced it," he said. "I think it's more a function of your mechanics. If your mechanics are clean, the ball is going to come out crisp." Thinking man: Coming off a season in which he batted .300 for only the second time in his career, Rich Aurilia believes that experience has made him a more intelligent hitter. "I think my thought patterns have gotten better as I've gotten older," said Aurilia, who's entering his 12th season at age 35. "I'm not saying that I'm a better player than I was. There are a few people in this game who are better players at 35 than they were at 28, 29 or 30. But I do think I'm a smarter player than I was -- a smarter hitter, taking advantage of what's given me and not trying to do too much in a certain situation." Aurilia, whose only other .300 season came in 2001 (.324), has never drawn walks frequently. But he cited patience to illustrate his deeper understanding of hitting. "If they're going to walk you, take the walk," he said. "On an individual level, 1-for-3 is better than 1-for-4. But on a team level, you got on base two out of four times instead of one out of four times."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.