Last night, you could see why Zito was ever considered a good pitcher. This wasn't his first good start as a Giant, but it was his first dominant start. The curve was so good, it made it tough to hit the few that he hung. The fastballs were mixed up well, both in terms of location and velocity. There's no evidence that this start is going to magically carry over to the next start - or, say, set the tone for the next decade - but it was nice to see something indicating Zito's better than the average innings-muncher. Don't start moving his guitars into "The Shed" just yet.
So why was I more excited about Russ Ortiz's performance last night? The guy came back from a severe case of letstakealookatlincecumitis to throw absolute darts out of the bullpen, and he was throwing the best breaking ball I've seen from him since the second half of 2000. He wasn't just throwing the 89/90 MPH fastball we were satisfied with after the 84/85 MPH cotton balls of '06, he was touching 95.
Ortiz's numbers against opposing hitters by inning:
Innings 1-3 - .247/.344/.394
Innings 4-6 - .259/.346/.406
Innings 7-9 - .283/.358/.448
That kind of progression isn't always the case for starters. It makes sense that starters would start to show signs of fatigue in the late innings, but pitchers like Matt Morris and Noah Lowry haven't shown any difference over their careers. Matt Cain gets much better in the later innings, though he still doesn't enough major league innings under his belt to call it a definite trend. Zito is the only other pitcher who is easier to score on in innings 7-9.
When facing a hitter for the first time in a game, Ortiz gets a strikeout 19.6% of the time. During his second time through the lineup, that number drops to 15.9%. The third time through: 12.7%. That kind of drop seems to be the case for every starter - from Kirk Rueter to Jason Schmidt - but maybe it makes a much bigger difference for the pitchers who don't have as many strikeouts to begin with. I don't know. I'm better at the knock-knock jokes and pop culture references.
Long, tedious story short: Maybe Ortiz should have been moved to the bullpen earlier in his career. Wild, baseless prediction: If he stays in the bullpen, he'll do well. Fact randomly inserted as if it made any difference in the point I was trying to make: When he was a closer for the San Jose Giants, he had a 0.25 ERA, and 63 strikeouts in 36 innings. He struggled a little bit in AA, and was converted to the rotation the following season. I love bringing up those San Jose numbers whenever I get a chance.
It was only, like, one game. Maybe I should get more sleep. But I just loved that one inning from Russ Ortiz last night.