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Barry Zito discusses his 2012 success

Perhaps it's fitting that the St. Louis Cardinals will be on hand Friday as the Giants raise their 2012 World Series champions flag.

After all, it was the 2011 champion Cardinals whom the Giants dethroned in a thrilling seven-game National League Championship Series last October. San Francisco rallied to win three straight over St. Louis before sweeping the American League champion Tigers in the Fall Classic.

The man who kick-started the Giants' late-October buzz saw -- left-hander Barry Zito -- takes the ball for San Francisco on Friday in its home opener. Zito's 7 2/3 shutout innings in Game 5 of the NLCS may have marked the most important start of his career and was the turning point of the series.

Zito posted a 4.15 ERA in 32 starts in 2012. In his season debut a year ago, he tossed a four-hit shutout of Colorado.

Jake Westbrook gets the ball for St. Louis, making his first start since his 2012 season was cut short by an oblique injury. Westbrook threw an extended bullpen session earlier this week to stay sharp after not pitching since last Friday.

"I feel good about where I am," Westbrook said of his regular-season readiness.

Offensively for St. Louis, Carlos Beltran is expected to be back in the lineup after Allen Craig started in right field during Wednesday's 16-inning affair in Arizona. The Cardinals lost the game, 10-9, and used eight different pitchers, although Thursday's off-day should help ease the overall burden on the St. Louis 'pen.

The Giants have won 10 of their last 12 home openers and their last four.

Cardinals: Freese on the mend

• David Freese is set to begin a rehab stint with Triple-A Memphis on Thursday. The Cards' third baseman injured his back on March 4, when he fell into the stands trying to catch a popup.

The club has set a tentative schedule for Freese to play five innings Thursday in what will be Memphis' Opening Day. He may play Friday -- but only as a DH -- before playing a full game at third over the weekend.

"He seemed to just keep feeling better, and that's an opportunity for us to see if he can push it," manager Mike Matheny said. "... He's excited about how he feels."

The club is hopeful Freese will be available for Monday's home opener against the Reds.

Giants: Sandoval appears healthy

• In the Giants' first series of the season, third baseman Pablo Sandoval showed no ill effects from the nerve irritation in his right elbow.

"I think we still have to keep an eye on him, but I think he's past [being day-to-day]," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's passed all the tests -- how he's swinging, how he's playing third."

Sandoval went 1-for-4 with a two-run homer on Wednesday and is now 3-for-11 on the season.

Worth noting

• Zito has had success against two of St. Louis' biggest power threats, Beltran and Matt Holliday. Beltran is hitting just .229 in 50 plate appearances, while Holliday has posted a .206 average in 38 plate appearances against the lefty.

• The Cardinals haven't won a season series against the Giants since they took four of five from San Francisco during the 2006 season. The two clubs split their six regular-season games last year.

• The Giants have sold out 165 consecutive regular-season home games dating to 2010.

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