New ace Zito arrives at Giants camp

Updated: February 14, 2007, 6:42 PM ET
Associated Press

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Barry Zito wandered into his new spring training clubhouse carrying an Oakland Athletics duffel bag and plopped into Barry Bonds' chair.

Starting Pitcher
San Francisco Giants

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
GM W L BB K ERA
34 16 10 99 151 3.83

Oops!

"I probably don't know better yet," Zito said, chuckling.

It might have been a first in San Francisco franchise history. Zito requested that he dress next to the slugger back home this season, too.

"Barry and I have a good relationship," Zito said. "If I can somehow lighten the load off of him, so you guys can just take a hard right when you're going to his locker and start talking to me."

Zito reported to the Giants' spring training complex at Scottsdale Stadium on Wednesday sporting his signature relaxed style -- jeans and a T-shirt. He looked the same, save for the 10 extra pounds of muscle he says he added to his lower body this winter.

A new $126 million, seven-year contract apparently hasn't affected the left-hander's ways. And it's clear he already feels part of his new team, even though the Giants' pitchers and catchers don't take the field together for the first time until Thursday.

"It's been pretty seamless," he said of the adjustment. "It feels good. It feels natural. I feel like I know most of the people in the clubhouse just because I've played against them and played with a couple of them or at least know some off the field."

Zito played some light catch with reliever Steve Kline, who was wearing a bushy beard he will soon lose before it really warms up in the desert. Kline's welcome was interesting: The nameplate above his locker read "Rich Kline," a mistake that happened because his spot is right next to infielder Rich Aurilia's.

"I like it," Kline said. "I want to keep it."

Kline also likes Zito, and tried to make the new ace feel at home right away.

"I was nervous," Kline said. "I thought if I hit him in the kneecap, I'd get released. I talked to him and tried to make him feel welcome. Coming to a new team is always hard. He's a big part of our team."

The 28-year-old Zito will be almost as popular a topic as Bonds this spring.

"Ever since the press conference I've been just wearing my Giants hat around everywhere in L.A., just getting used to it and preparing myself to have it be natural," Zito said. "I would just wear it my car, not going out."

Bonds' arrival day at spring training is unclear, though position players are due to report to camp Monday. He typically holds his state-of-Barry address the first or second day, but his contract remains unresolved. He could sign after spring training starts.

"I'd expect that he'd be here on reporting day," said general manager Brian Sabean, who noted that the two Barrys together in the clubhouse is "interesting, but I don't know if it's a big deal."

The seven-time NL MVP begins his 22nd major league season 22 homers shy of breaking Hank Aaron's career record of 755. The Giants have differing views of certain language in his $15.8 million, one-year deal and Bonds has yet to sign a revised version.

"Hmm, just details," Zito said. "I saw him at UCLA a few times working out. We caught up there and kind of shot the breeze a little bit. He looks amazing. He's ready to go."

Zito hopes he is ready to go at the plate now that he'll be batting every fifth day in the National League. He has been working with good friend Brady Anderson on his hitting and baserunning for about a month.

He has a .034 -- 2-for-52 -- career batting average during seven seasons with Oakland.

"I just haven't ever taken it seriously. I may get criticized or whatever but it's not something I had any integrity of doing," Zito said. "There was no reason to take time out of my day to get five at-bats a year. Now, I can make a difference in every game I'm in."

The Giants insisted when they signed Zito to such a long, expensive contract that his track record for staying healthy -- he's never missed a start -- and his relatively young age were big pluses to making such a financial commitment.

Zito, the 2002 AL Cy Young award winner, underwent a rigorous, 10-week program this offseason that featured weight lifting and stability exercises that helped him add muscle to his legs and core.

"There's no reason to impress you guys with biceps," he said.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press