Who is Giants’ odd man out when Ryan Vogelsong return: Chad Gaudin or Barry Zito?

San Francisco Giants starter Chad Gaudin throws to the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fourth inning of a baseball game Friday, July 19, 2013, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

San Francisco Giants starter Chad Gaudin throws to the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fourth inning of a baseball game Friday, July 19, 2013, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Chad Gaudin did it again on Friday.

Gaudin, the journeyman pitcher who joined his Xth team this spring when he signed with the Giants, turned in his best performance of the season when he limited the Diamondbacks to three hits and no walks or runs over seven innings in the Giants’ 2-0 win on Friday. He struck out eight, improved his record to 4-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.15.

He is 4-0 with 2.23 in seven starts since moving to the rotation in place of the injured Ryan Vogelsong.

Since coming off the DL after being hit in the arm with a line drive, Gaudin is 2-0 with 0.95 ERA over three starts.

Manager Bruce Bochy admitted that it would be hard to remove Gaudin from the rotation when Vogelsong returns from his stint on the DL next month.

So it left many Giants fans to wonder: Who goes to the pen when Vogey returns? Vogey? Gaudin? Tim Lincecum? Barry Zito?

Well, the answer may have come Saturday afternoon.

Ryan Vogelsong threw 40 pitches in the bullpen, then 35 more from the main mound at AT&T Park to coaches Shawon Dunston and Roberto Kelly as well as outfielder Gregor Blanco.

“I came out of it healthy,” he told the San Jose Mercury News. “I took out of it what I needed to. The hand feels good, the arm feels good.”

Barring any setback, Vogelsong’s next step to pitch in an Arizona Rookie League game next week, then a start with Class A San Jose and another with Double-A Richmond. The “soft” return date to the Giants is Aug. 9.

August 9, eh? Hmmm. That could be very telling. Take a look at how the Giants’ rotation sets up between now and then.

  • July 20 vs. Diamondbacks (Cain)
  • July 21 vs. Diamondbacks (Bumgarner)
  • July 22 vs. Reds (Lincecum)
  • Jul 23 DH vs. Reds (Zito and TBD – either Yusmeiro Pettit, Mike Kickham or Eric Surkamp; Pettit seems longshot as it would require opening a spot on the 40-man roster).
  • July 24 vs. Reds (Gaudin)
  • July 26 vs. Cubs (Cain)
  • July 27 vs. Cubs (Bumgarner)
  • July 28 vs. Cubs (Lincecum)

Now, the Giants have two upcoming days off — July 25 and July 29. If they stay on turn, Zito would pitch on July 30 in Philadelphia to open a six-game road trip. It would also mean Zito would pitch twice on that road trip.

Considering Zito has been so dreadful on the road — he is 0-6 with 9.89 ERA on the road compared to 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA at home — it would wise to use those off days to skip Zito’s turn in the rotation, limiting him to one start on the road trip. Then the rotation would look like this:

  • July 30 at Philadelphia (Gaudin)
  • July 31 at Philadelphia (Cain)
  • Aug. 1 at Philadelphia (Bumgarner)
  • Aug. 2 at Tampa Bay (Lincecum)
  • Aug. 3 at Tampa Bay (Zito)
  • Aug. 4 at Tampa Bay (Gaudin)
  • Aug. 5 vs. Milwaukee (Cain)
  • Aug. 6 vs. Milwaukee (Bumgarner)
  • Aug. 7 vs. Milwaukee (Lincecum)

That would mean that Zito’s next turn in the rotation would fall on August 8, at home vs. the Brewers. Vogelsong’s soft return date is Aug. 9. That means Vogelsong’s soft return date would plot him right between Zito and Gaudin in the rotation, meaning either could easily be bumped.

Or the Giants could even tinker with a six-man rotation, in which Zito gets skipped on the road.

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