Barry Zito has shown brief flashes of brilliance since signing a massive free-agent contract with the San Francisco Giants three seasons ago, but mostly -- and especially in April -- he has looked like a colossal bust.
Zito tries to shake his customary early-season struggles and help the Giants open with consecutive victories for the first time in six years Tuesday night against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.After averaging nearly 16 victories in his final six years with Oakland, Zito hasn't won more than 11 games in any of his first three seasons since signing a $126 million, seven-year contract to move across the bay in 2007. The left-hander went 10-13 with a 4.03 ERA in 33 starts last season, but did go 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA in 15 outings after the All-Star break.While Zito seemed to get on track over the final few months, he's really struggled in the opening month of the season since putting on the San Francisco uniform.The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner is 2-11 with a 5.47 ERA in 15 starts in March and April in his first three seasons with the Giants. Zito has lost all three of his San Francisco season debuts, yielding 11 runs over 14 innings.Zito didn't do much in spring training to suggest things will be different in 2010, recording a 6.35 ERA while going winless in six spring outings. He gave up for five runs and seven hits in three innings against the A's last Thursday."My timing was off," he said. "Just the timing and the delivery, a couple of things I'm going to clean up before the next start."Although Zito didn't help himself for much of last season, he also didn't receive much help from his offense. His 3.38 run-support average ranked second-worst in the NL. The Giants finished 2009 with an anemic 657 runs, fourth-fewest in the league.In an attempt to boost the offense and make its first playoff appearance since 2003, the Giants acquired veterans Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa in the offseason. Both made an immediate impact, as DeRosa homered and Huff added a single and scored in Monday's season opener.Two-time defending Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum took care of the rest, allowing four hits while striking out seven and walking none in seven scoreless innings of San Francisco's 5-2 victory.Roy Oswalt made his eighth straight opening-day start for Houston, but that honor easily could have gone to Wandy Rodriguez, who went 14-12 with a 3.02 ERA last season.Rodriguez led the Astros with career highs in wins, starts (33), innings (205 2-3) and strikeouts (193) in 2009, and his ERA -- also a career best -- ranked first among Houston starters. The left-hander was at his best at Minute Maid, going 9-3 with a 2.08 ERA in 16 home starts -- 13 of which the Astros won.The only other time Rodriguez faced the Giants, on May 16, 2006, was one of the worst performances of his career. He was tagged for a career-worst 11 runs -- six earned -- and 10 hits with five walks in 3 2/3 innings of a 14-3 home loss.Zito had similar problems in his last start against the Astros, allowing six runs, four hits and five walks in 5 2/3 innings of a 6-2 loss Aug. 13, 2008.The Giants haven't opened a season with consecutive wins since beating Houston in the first two games of 2004.