Free-Agent-to-Be Zito Leaves the Door Ajar

Times Staff Writer

The Angels wouldn’t have to pitch Barry Zito on the virtues of playing in Southern California. The Oakland Athletic star lives in West Hollywood, and he is eligible for free agency this fall, when the Angels could remake their starting rotation.

“It’s hard for me to think about anything but Oakland right now,” Zito said. “At some point in my career, I could definitely see myself playing in the L.A. area.”

Zito, 27, is two years younger than Kelvim Escobar and Jeff Weaver, who also can file for free agency this fall. The Angels do not have a left-hander in their rotation. Zito, the 2002 American League Cy Young Award winner, has started the most games of any major leaguer over the last five years and has never been on the disabled list.

Zito, a USC product whose family resides in the Southland, said he hopes to stay with the A’s but would not discuss a new contract during the season. Oakland owner Lew Wolff said he has “an open mind” about retaining Zito and hopes the pitcher can work out a new deal with General Manager Billy Beane.


Zito did not play Sunday in the Angels’ 5-4 victory over the A’s, but he hosted 100 members of the military and donated $500 to Strikeouts for Troops, the organization he founded last year to help wounded soldiers and their families.

The group raised more than $100,000 last year, largely from donations by major leaguers. Trevor Bell, the Angels’ top draft pick last season, also contributed. Zito donated $100 a strikeout last season -- $17,100 in all -- and said he would contribute at least $200 a strikeout this season.

“It’s a way to give back to the troops who give us so much,” Zito said.


In his second spring start, Weaver pitched three innings and gave up three runs and four hits. Third baseman Chone Figgins and center fielder Darin Erstad saved Weaver from a far uglier day, with Erstad making a diving catch and Figgins two diving stops, including one in which he threw out a runner at first base from his knees.

Figgins also survived a scary moment while leading off third base, ducking and covering his head as a line drive from Vladimir Guerrero nearly decapitated him.

“He’s hit a couple that put some fear in me,” Figgins said.

Weaver has given up 12 hits, including four home runs, in 5 1/3 innings this spring. He said he has thrown only fastballs and changeups and worked on pitching to spots “regardless of whether they hit it or not.” In his next outing, he said, he will throw breaking balls and set up hitters.


His younger brother Jered fared much better Sunday, pitching four scoreless innings for an Angel split squad that beat the Chicago White Sox, 6-1.


Outfielder Garret Anderson will rest a sore left heel for “a couple days,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. Scioscia also said he has not decided whether Anderson will bat third this season, ahead of Vladimir Guerrero, or fourth behind Guerrero.... Jason Bulger, fighting for the final bullpen spot, pitched two perfect innings and struck out four.... Designated hitter Tim Salmon went 0 for 4, lowering his spring average to .400. First baseman Casey Kotchman singled twice, lifting his average to .450.