(BaseballStL) --One day, Zach Petrick knows, the proverbial telephone will ring and the moment for which he has waited his whole life will have arrived.
He does not allow himself to think about it or even consider it. There is much at hand to accomplish. But one day, he will be summoned into his manager’s office and informed the St. Louis Cardinals need him to pitch. He will be ready.
When Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia went on the disabled list for an indefinite period, the Cardinals’ front office tossed around several names as potential fill-ins. Petrick was one of them. Ultimately, Marco Gonzales got the call and Petrick continues to fulfill his mound duties at Triple A Memphis.
But if back spasms should continue to plague Shelby Miller or if another falters, Petrick could be next.
“I haven’t heard anything and no one has mentioned it to me,” the 24-year-old right-hander told BaseballStL. But he acknowledged he read the media reports in which he was mentioned as one of a handful of possibilities.
Petrick, of Joliet, Ill. is truly a feel-good story.
Undrafted out of Northwestern Ohio University in Lima, Ohio, Petrick was offered a free agent contract by the Cardinals just a little more than one year ago. One of the subjects in a BaseballStL series about minor leaguers on the low Class A Peoria Chiefs, Petrick said at that time he just wanted a chance. “My coach told me that even though I wasn’t drafted, he thought I was going to be offered a chance to play by the Cardinals. I told him I would go anywhere and do anything they wanted me to,” he said at the time.
What he has done is nothing short of amazing. A year ago, Petrick was learning under the very capable tutelage of former Cardinal pitcher Jason Simontacchi. Like many minor leaguers, Petrick was struggling a little in his first year. But his performance improved with every outing and he jumped from low A to Double A by year’s end. “It was just a whirlwind, getting called up to Double A last year,” he remembers.
One big difference was something Simontacchi told him that Petrick repeats to this day; Trust your stuff. You belong here.
“A year ago,” Petrick said last week, “I had no confidence in myself.”
But Peoria manager and former big league catcher Dann Bilardello saw something in Petrick.
“What I saw was that he threw quality strikes,” Bilardello said recently. “There’s a difference between throwing strikes and quality strikes. He commanded both sides of the plate and had secondary pitches that worked.”
Bilardello would know. A big league catcher and highly-regarded catching instructor with several clubs, he now manages Palm Beach, the Cardinals’ high Class A minor league club.
“I look for how the hitters react to his pitches and what they are trying to do up there. The other thing about Zach is that he competes like crazy as a pitcher. He stayed down in the zone and just dominated hitters (in Peoria).”
The Cardinals took notice, promoting him rapidly and naming him pitcher of the year in their minor league organization.
And now, the crucible of Triple A baseball. “The biggest difference in Triple A is the discipline of the hitters,” he said. “They attack the ball when they are ahead in the count. That’s one thing I’ve noticed. I’ve given up a couple of homers because I fell behind in the count and they were waiting for my pitch.”
Confidence has come with success and Petrick’s development has been enhanced with the addition of a sinker and a cut fastball. “I can’t get by with just a four-seam fastball,” he said. “I only through in the low 90s.”
“The sinker has helped me get through innings with fewer pitches. I’m getting more ground balls and pitching to contact more. I try to spot my fastball and get ahead in the count and then use the cutter and the sinker to get ground balls. I know how important it is to stay ahead (in the count).”
“Zach was very professional,” Simontacchi recalls. “He was very humble but hungry and eager to prove that he belonged here. He always wanted to learn, to make himself better.”
Petrick also realizes how important it is to deal in the present, not in the uncertain world of what might happen.
“I’m just worrying right now about what I’m doing here. I still have a lot to accomplish. They keep sending me out there because they believe in me, believe I can make the pitches.”
But, if the call does come, Petrick will be ready.
“If they call me up to pitch, I hope I can keep us in the game and eat up some innings for them. I know I’d need to keep mistakes to a minimum.”
Petrick paused a second as he absorbed perhaps for the first time, the scenario of pitching in the major leagues, even if it might only be temporary for now.
“I still have a lot to work on,” he said, revealing the discipline and focus required of an undrafted player from a small college who is suddenly in the discussion for a big league start.
Baseball may be the stuff of dreams but its substance is hard work in quiet hours when no one is watching.