Giants fall short

WASHINGTON -- The San Francisco Giants had a new lineup but the same weak pulse Sunday in a 2-1 loss to the Washington Nationals, shut down by Triple-A call-up Matt Chico and beaten on Ryan Zimmerman's single at the end.

But their day in the nation's capital might have been a net positive. In a matchup of Chico and the $126 million man, Barry Zito stood out.

It took the Giants' well-compensated ace four months to put his record-setting contract out of his head. Now, in the September shadows, he appears to be pitching with his chin up and his mind clear.

Zito continued his best run in a shaky season, allowing two hits and a run in seven innings.

"I'm feeling more relaxed out there," said Zito, who is 1-0 with a 1.24 ERA over his past four starts. "I think the worst is behind me. ... Now I expect these kinds of outings more consistently."

Zito placed inside fastballs, rained curveballs and kept the Nationals off-balance with his change-up. He struck out five and walked one. Over his past three starts he has walked just two in 22 innings. The only time he has walked fewer batters over a three-start stretch came in 2002, the year he won his Cy Young Award.

"I've still had a ton of 3-2 counts, but it's about making pitches when you have to," Zito said.