David Sabino
Tuesday May 12th, 2009

This week's Diamond Digits explores a possible reason for the startling turnaround of a former Cy Young Award winner, the teams that can't win a pitchers' duel and a hitter who's a one-man stimulus plan for D.C.'s sad-sack squad.

Barry Zito's career ERA with Pablo Sandoval as his batterymate, the best among any backstop he's thrown at least 18 innings to in his career.

Over the last two seasons few pitchers have been as disappointing as Zito, who signed with the Giants as a free agent at the end of 2006 for seven years and $126 million. But with Sandoval, the Giants' regular third baseman, behind the dish, Zito has looked like the same pitcher who won the 2002 AL Cy Young Award. On Friday night Zito held the first-place Dodgers to one earned run in six innings, picking up his first win since last September 19. That lowered his ERA with Sandoval catching this season to 1.86 in three games and all but guaranteed that Sandoval will remain his personal backstop. Like his brothers Yadier and Jose, starting catcher Bengie Molina is widely regarded as one of the deftest handlers of pitchers in baseball. However, in 296 1/3 innings with Molina behind the dish, Zito's ERA is 5.28, the highest of any of his big-league catchers.

This isn't the first time that Zito has been more comfortable with the backup than the well-respected starter. In his last years in Oakland, Zito was more effective throwing to backup Adam Melhuse than to Jason Kendall (like Molina, one of the better handlers of pitchers in the game).

Here are the career ERAs with Zito's different batterymates (minimum 50 innings):

Pablo Sandoval: 2.71 Ramon Hernandez: 2.95 Adam Melhuse: 3.19 Greg Myers: 3.71 Jason Kendall: 3.91 Damian Miller: 5.00 Bengie Molina: 5.28

Teams that have not won a game while scoring three runs or fewer this season.

The defending AL champion Rays are the worst culprits, losing all 15 contests in which they've scored less than four times. That's in stark contrast to last year, when Tampa Bay was one of baseball's best at winning low-scoring games, taking 20 such contests, which placed behind only the Giants (22), Yankees (21) and Angels (21). Last year's worst team, Detroit, has already matched its low-scoring victory total from last year, having won four times already. The remaining teams in search of the first non-slugfest win are the Indians (0-13), Cubs (0-12), Orioles (0-12), Phillies (0-12) and Yankees (0-5).

There hasn't been a lot to celebrate in Washington this baseball season, as the Nationals are owners of the worst record in baseball (10-20). But if third baseman Ryan Zimmerman continues to roll, his approval ratings will rival those of Washington's No. 1 resident. The sixth-year third baseman has collected a hit in every game since going 0-for-5 in the second game of the year at Florida. His 30-game hitting streak is the longest in baseball since Moises Alou recorded a hit in 30 straight contests for the Mets in August and September of 2007. A lifetime Nat, this is Zimmerman's eighth streak of 10 games or more with a hit, and his current streak surpassed his old Nationals record of 17 games in a row set in the summer of 2006. He's now just two games shy of the franchise record (31) set by Vladimir Guerrero of the '99 Expos. If you look back in the annals of baseball in the Nation's capital, only two men have enjoyed longer streaks. In 1924, Sam Rice hit in 31 straight contests for the Senators, which places second in the city's history to Heinie Manush's 33-game streak in 1933.

Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins

Although his team struggled to a 3-4 record against the Reds, Braves and Rockies, you can't point fingers at the red-hot Hanley Ramirez. The Marlins All-Star shortstop raised his batting average from .280 to .348 in the span of seven games, during which he hit .533 (16-for-30), was on base 57.6 percent of his plate appearances, slugged an even 1.000 and scored a big league-high 11 runs. Only Johnny Damon had more home runs (five) than Ramirez's four. For good measure, he was successful on all three of his steals attempts, doubling his season total.

Others deserving recognition were: Damon, Evan Longoria, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, Russell Martin, Zack Greinke, Joe Saunders and Vicente Padilla.

Phil Hughes, SP, Yankees

First the good news: Phil Hughes' ERA last week was 17.03 runs per nine innings lower than the man he's been replacing in the rotation, Chien-Ming Wang. The bad news is that in two starts Hughes' ERA was 17.47, the worst in baseball last week. The promising right-hander allowed 11 earned runs to the Red Sox and Orioles in just 5 2/3 innings, giving up 15 hits, six walks and two home runs while being saddled with two losses. Barring a lights-out performance against the Twins on Friday, he's likely ticketed back to Triple-A Scranton.

Others who had weeks they wish they could forget were: Adam LaRoche, Kyle Lohse, Bronson Arroyo, Gerald Laird, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jordan Schafer.

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