The San Francisco Giants found themselves down an ace on Tuesday night, and it may have cost them an important game in the race for the postseason.
Now, they need the pitcher who was once supposed to lead their staff to pick them up.
Barry Zito(notes) will be on the mound Wednesday afternoon as the Giants play the decisive game of their series against the visiting San Diego Padres, a team that has already beaten Zito three times this year.
San Francisco (76-63) had to turn to prospect Madison Bumgarner to make his major league debut Tuesday when reigning NL Cy Young Award-winner Tim Lincecum(notes) was scratched due to inflammation in his back.
While Bumgarner didn’t pitch badly, leaving in the sixth inning with a 3-2 lead, the Giants’ bullpen surrendered that edge in a 4-3 loss that dropped the team three games behind Colorado for the NL wild card.
“It’s a very tough time to lose a guy like (Lincecum),” catcher Bengie Molina(notes) said. “His health is most important. We need him healthy. I don’t know if anybody knew. I was very shocked. Hopefully he’s OK for later.”
Since Lincecum and Matt Cain(notes) have emerged as top-of-the-rotation pitchers, Zito has become San Francisco’s third starter, but he was the projected ace when the Giants signed him to a seven-year, $126 million contract before the 2007 season.
After struggling through much of the first two and a half years of the contract, Zito (9-11, 3.95 ERA) was 4-2 with a 1.92 ERA in his first nine starts after this season’s All-Star break.
He’ll be trying to rebound from a troubling 10th outing of his second half Friday at Milwaukee. The left-hander needed 96 pitches to get through four innings, walking five and allowing two runs - although the bullpen tossed five shutout innings and the Giants came back to win 3-2.
Zito is 0-3 with a 5.79 ERA in four starts against San Diego this year. Although he was sharp in two of those outings, he gave up nine runs in 4 1-3 innings of a 10-4 home loss in the most recent matchup July 12.
San Francisco’s performance against the light-hitting Padres (62-78) has not helped its cause. The Giants are 6-8 against their in-state rivals, who rank last in the majors with 546 runs.
San Diego has been pitching well and causing problems for several opponents lately, winning 10 of its last 14.
“It’s sort of been a trend of this club all year,” manager Bud Black said. “Our guys keep it going during the course of the game. We’re pesky.”
Wade LeBlanc(notes) (1-1, 6.06) will get the ball for the Padres as he tries to build on the best start of his brief major league career. The left-hander gave up two hits over six impressive innings in a 2-0 road win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday.
“Hopefully it gives me a lot of confidence, to know that I’m able to compete up here,” said LeBlanc, who has made eight starts for San Diego over the last two seasons. “Obviously, I know that something like this isn’t going to happen every start. So the best thing I can do is give this team a chance to win every time I go out there.”
LeBlanc struggled in his first two starts of 2009, allowing a total of seven runs in 4 1-3 innings over two June outings. Since being recalled Aug. 29, he has given up a total of six hits in 12 innings in two starts.