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SF@COL: Zito hurls shutout in first start of season

DENVER -- The Giants were 0-for-2012 after their "big three" starters at the top of their rotation -- Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain -- couldn't secure a win in the season-opening series with the D-backs.

Enter veteran Barry Zito, who dominated Monday to put the Giants in the win column, tossing his first shutout since 2003 in blanking the Rockies, 7-0, at Coors Field, spoiling their home opener.

"I couldn't be happier for Barry," veteran first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "To see him go out there and throw a complete-game shutout, in Colorado -- that was just fun to watch. I never wanted to scoop a ball at the end right there for the last out harder in my life. He's been going through some times this spring, and to go out here and do what he did in Colorado after [our] 0-3 start, it's just amazing. Just when you think you've seen it all in baseball."

Zito kept the Rockies in check, pitching backward through the lineup. He used a good curve and changeup to set up his mid-80s fastball, keeping the Rockies' out of synch and holding them to four hits and walking none. Zito retired the first eight hitters he faced before Chacin beat out a dribbler to the third-base side of the mound.

"It was really satisfying -- it was a tough spring," Zito said of the effort. "You just got to be realistic and say, 'Even if you spot up a lot of times, guys are going to hit the fastball well.' You have to just keep them off-balance and do what you can. If you can get them looking for a couple pitches at the same time, that's when things go well."

The win marked the Giants' fifth straight at Coors Field, and gave the club a sense of satisfaction for putting all aspects of the game together for the first time this season.

"That's as good a game as I think we've had here in quite a while -- to get a shutout here," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He had four pitches going. He had great concentration out there. He was hitting his spots. He used his cutter well today, which helped him. But he had good command of his fastball, change -- curveball, too. He pounded the strike zone well."

While Zito faced numerous questions as he closed Spring Training with a pair of rough outings before making a Minor League start to work on adjustments to his new delivery, the only question in his regular-season debut was whether Bochy would let him pitch the ninth and record his first complete game in two years -- and his first shutout in nine.

"He didn't labor at all in the innings," Bochy said. "The pitch count was good. He said he felt great. It wasn't hot, the weather was perfect. The plan was to have [closer Brian] Wilson go an inning, but with the game he threw, he deserved a shot to go out there in the ninth."

Wilson didn't mind putting his 2012 season debut off a couple more days as he watched his teammate from the 'pen.

"It was nice to see his poise on the mound there today," Wilson said. "He just kept motoring. He finished it well, to come out there in the ninth and be able to close the door. It's nice to see a starter get a complete game. I'd rather have that than come in and pitch."

Though he hadn't pitched a shutout in the Majors since his 50th of 146 career wins, Zito rekindled the complete-game feeling when he threw one last June on a Minor League rehab assignment at Triple-A Fresno.

"It was a very new feeling at that point," Zito said. "Today, I just tried to stay as much pitch to pitch, and eventually the innings are over and the game's over."

The catcher in Fresno? Young Hector Sanchez, who had just jumped from Class A San Jose and was behind the dish again for Zito on Monday. They were in synch all day long, with Zito rarely shaking off his signals.

"I've thrown to Sanchy a lot, on rehab especially last year," Zito said. "I'm really comfortable with him. He knows how to mix it real well. He has a great feel back there. I don't think he gets enough credit as a catcher."

Nine years earlier, Zito's catcher for a shutout against the Rangers was a young Ramon Hernandez, who coincidentally started behind the plate for the Rockies and earned the only extra-base hit off Zito in nine innings, a seventh-inning two-out double to left.

"Today, every pitch he was throwing was for strikes," Hernandez said. "He never really got behind to a lot of guys. He mixed up his changeup, and he threw it for strikes. He threw a lot of curveballs when he was behind, 1-0, and he got back in the count with that. He mixed a cutter in, made you chase in, made you chase up. The whole game, he got behind two or three guys, maybe four at the most."

The Giants struck early and often, scoring every other inning through the first six.

Pablo Sandoval started the scoring when he launched a no-doubter into the right-field seats on the first pitch he saw in the first inning, plating Melky Cabrera, who'd reached base on an infield single. Sandoval has owned the Rockies throughout his career, hitting Colorado better than any club he's faced, with a .478 average (11-for-23), and the home run was his fifth in his last five games at Coors Field.

After Rockies starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin walked the bases loaded in the third, Sanchez singled to right to bring Cabrera in, and Angel Pagan plated Sandoval on a groundout to first baseman Todd Helton. The Giants stretched their lead in the fifth against reliever Matt Reynolds, taking advantage of a couple of errors and Sanchez's second hit to load the bases before Brandon Crawford cleared them with a three-run double to left.

"It was nice to get some early runs there and take a little pressure off the pitcher," Bochy said. "Even in Arizona, I thought we'd been swinging the bats better, and we carried that into today's game. Today was important, coming off three tough losses. You want to bounce back, and the club did that well. We had to fly in here, their Opening Day. They had good focus today." Comments