(BaseballStL) -- Zach Petrick has had to prove himself every step of the way.
That’s just fine with him.
Interviewed in early May as part of Baseball STL’s series on The Cardinal Way, Petrick was just beginning his professional career. Now as he nears the end of his first, remarkable season, Petrick is more determined than ever.
When the Peoria Chiefs, the St. Louis Cardinals low Class A minor league team visited Cubs affiliate Kane County in early May, Chiefs’ manager Dann Bilardello urged that Petrick be one of the players spotlighted for the series.
“I think this kid is pretty good but he’s not getting much interest right now,” Bilardello said at the time. “I’d like to see him get some publicity.” The Chiefs’ skipper couldn’t have been more prescient.
Petrick, from Morris, Il., did not attract major college attention coming out of high school and played at The University of Northwestern Ohio, a private school in Lima, Ohio.
He pitched well there, but not well enough to be drafted. As round and after round passed without his name called, Petrick felt his longshot dream of getting a chance at the next level slipping away. But his coach told him he thought the Cardinals might offer to sign him as a free agent and Petrick jumped at the chance. “I’ll go anywhere they send me and do anything they want me to do,” he said at the time.
Now, four months later, he’s done far more than he or the Cardinals could have hoped.
“My goal coming out of spring training was to make it to the Chiefs,” he remembers. Mission accomplished. He started the year under the tutelage of Chiefs’ pitching coach Jason Simontacchi, himself a former big leaguer with the Redbirds.
“Simo stressed the mental aspect of the game, he said. “I remember coming off the field after pitching an inning in spring training and he asked me why I threw a certain pitch in a certain situation. It wasn’t a criticism. He wanted to see if I was just out there throwing or if I was thinking about what I was doing. Simo really helped me with the mental part of the game. Everywhere I’ve been, someone has helped me with something.”
Petrick posted outstanding numbers there (33 innings in 16 games as a reliever, 46 Ks and a .83 ERA) and was promoted to high A Palm Beach where he blew the doors off. In 33 innings there, he fanned one man an inning in posting a miniscule .27 ERA, holding opposing batter to a .176 average.
Then came the call that he could have never expected; he was going to Class AA Springfield, to train as a starter. While most of Petrick’s professional career to that point had been in relief, he was confident he could make the switch.
“I learned a change-up at Palm Beach and had always felt I could locate my fastball where I wanted it. My breaking ball was pretty good and now with that third pitch, I felt I could start,” he said.
Petrick appreciated the chance and the fact that it expands his options, since he is proving to be a very versatile pitcher who can succeed in a variety of roles. “I’m happy with my velocity (91-93 consistently, even in the later innings) and my arm has handled 100 pitches.
“As a starter, you make your own game and all the situations are yours,” he said, comparing the two roles. “In relief, the game, the situations are already made for you and you have to handle them.”
In five starts at Springfield, Petrick has improved his command and sharpened his repertoire as he learns his way through the new role. So far, he is 3-2 with an ERA of about 4, but is coming off one of his best performances, a win in which he scattered 5 hits over 6 innings. He figures to get at least one more start and possibly two before his season ends Sept. 2.
“When the season is over, it’ll probably sink in how far I’ve come,” he said. “This will just make me work harder in the off season. I’ve always had to prove I belong.”