Pitching coach Dave Righetti went as far as to say the tweaks Zito made this winter _ seen by the team for the first time Thursday _ could cause him to lose his dominant curveball and wear down his body. Zito has never missed a start in his seven-year career.
"He's gone from one extreme to another from a pitching standpoint," Righetti said after San Francisco's pitchers and catchers finished their initial workout. "His ball flight is going to be different, no doubt about it."
But there's no need for alarm, Zito said. He's done this before.
The 28-year-old left-hander, given a $126 million, seven-year contract in late December, said he is trying to better utilize his improved lower-body strength. He added 10 pounds of muscle in his legs and core during the offseason.
"This is something I used to do, so it's just getting back to it," said Zito, the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner. "I'm just trying to take my weight down the mound a little bit more, use my legs a little bit more. I wasn't using my legs the last couple of years. I'm just taking a step back to create momentum from the beginning of the delivery. Before I used to stop and then go and try to create momentum really from nothing. It's kind of more an old-school delivery."
As he used to with the Oakland Athletics, Zito had a video camera out to chronicle his bullpen session. He also used a tape measure to mark the spot where his front foot landed upon releasing the ball.
With his feet shoulder width apart and legs bent, Zito now bounces slightly before taking a big step backward at the beginning of his delivery. He said that creates a longer stride, and his motion is more fluid.
"That'll wear him down. He's going to over-stride," Righetti said. "It's going to be tough on him. He's a good athlete and he got himself in shape for it. Maybe it's all tied in together and he felt he had to do something. To me, it'll be about making his pitches. If he loses the curveball, which he could because he'll be throwing from a different angle now _ we'll see how sore his groin is tomorrow."
Zito expects to generate more power on his fastball and off-speed pitches. He's been working on this for a few months now.
"Most guys won't do that, they'll think about it," Righetti said. "They won't really take it all the way unless they've had an injury or unless they've been getting killed. It's very rare that you see this. He's been successful. He must have felt pretty strong about it."
Righetti and manager Bruce Bochy plan to sit down with Zito in the coming days to discuss the changes _ and Righetti didn't rule out trying to change the pitcher's mind. Zito called Righetti right after he joined the Giants to let the pitching coach know he was changing things _ yet Righetti had no idea how much Zito would alter his motion until seeing No. 75 on the mound.
"I looked at his tapes from Oakland, so that was a waste of time," Righetti said.
For Zito, making changes in the offseason is nothing new. One winter he tweaked his pickoff move. This time, it's a more noticeable adjustment.
Is Righetti worried?
"Yeah," he said. "He said he was going to do a little something different. He was right. That's a little bit different. That's a first. I got my measuring stick out. He was talking about being bound up and having some freedom on the mound. He's doing all right. We'll get used to watching it. ... We'll see if he can make pitches doing that. He'll end up finding out."
Righetti said he warned Zito that he won't be able to step as far back on a real mound. The bullpen mounds at spring training are longer and built in a row so several pitchers can throw at once.
Bochy, for now, isn't going to get worked up about his new ace. There's another Barry slugger Barry Bonds _ to worry about. Bonds finally signed his contract Thursday and is scheduled to report Monday.
Bochy all but confirmed Zito will start opening day April 3 against the San Diego Padres, saying "it's a pretty good chance."
"He's going to try this for a little bit," Bochy said. "I don't see this being an issue. He's been working on it this winter. He broke it out today. We hadn't seen it, either. He's got his reasons."