Thursday, March 4, 2010
Updated: March 5, 11:58 AM ET
Zito hits Fielder, without further incident
By Jerry Crasnick
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Barry Zito's fastball clocked in at an average of 86.5 miles per hour last season -- the fourth-slowest velocity for any starter in the majors. But as the left-hander showed Thursday, a well-timed heater in the right spot can still make an eloquent statement.
Six months after Prince Fielder riled the Giants with an elaborate home run celebration, Zito got even. He plunked Fielder in the back in the first inning of a Cactus League game between the Giants and Brewers at Scottsdale Stadium.
Fielder picked up the ball and flipped it back to Zito, then jogged to first base without incident. Home plate umpire Ted Barrett did not issue a warning to the teams and Milwaukee manager Ken Macha later referred to the incident as a "non-issue."
After leaving the game, the two players had decidedly different reactions. Zito seemed detached to the point of oblivious. Fielder was admittedly miffed, but expressed the hope that any animosity between the two teams is now history.
"I've always said, 'I play the game hard. I run hard. And after that, I don't care what anybody thinks,' " Fielder said. "If that's what they've gotta do, that's what they've gotta do. Let them hit me once, and if that makes them feel better, that's awesome. Now we can just play baseball."
Zito, who pitched 1 2/3 innings in his first outing of the spring, denied trying to send a message with the pitch.
"We were just trying to go in there hard [with fastballs]," Zito said. "It's not something that was thought about for months and months."
When asked about the possibility of disciplinary action, Zito also chose to keep his opinions to himself.
"I don't even know about those things," he said.
There were some hard feelings in San Francisco's clubhouse stemming from a Sept. 6 incident at Miller Park. After hitting a 12th-inning walkoff homer in a 2-1 Milwaukee victory, Fielder untucked his jersey as he rounded the bases. As he jumped on home plate, his teammates collapsed around him like bowling pins.
Shortly after Fielder's celebration was replayed on the Internet and cable TV highlight shows, Angels outfielder Torii Hunter was among the big leaguers who chastised Fielder for the display even while praising the routine for its creativity.
"If I was a pitcher, I'd be [ticked] off," Hunter told reporters in September. "My mouth would be wide open. I'd be shocked. Baseball is not like the NFL, where you can celebrate in the end zone. You've got to keep your cool, play the game. You can't do that."
At the winter meetings in Indianapolis, Macha reportedly apologized to Giants manager Bruce Bochy for Fielder's exuberance.
Fielder's calm response Thursday was a noticeable departure from his reaction to a ninth-inning encounter with Dodgers reliever Guillermo Mota in August. After being drilled by a Mota fastball, Fielder was sufficiently enraged to try to enter the Dodgers' clubhouse and had to be restrained by teammates and security guards.
"Everytime somebody does something to me, I'm the one being videotaped," Fielder said, "so I'm trying to be a good guy. When kids see me getting crazy ... I'm trying to maintain [composure].
"Unfortunately people like to test it sometimes, but I'm working on it. I'm tired of being the bad guy all the time. I'm trying to work on growing up, I guess."
Jerry Crasnick is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com.