In March of 2012 we featured Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Zack Dodson (Read The Original Story Here) as he came off a successful 2011 season with the West Virginia Power in South Atlantic League. Fast forward three seasons and Dodson is starting his second season with the Altoona Curve the Pirates AA affiliate in the Eastern League.
On Sunday April 19th we traveled to Altoona, Pennsylvania to get a live look at Zack Dodson on the mound. The left-handed Dodson would be squaring off against the Akron Rubberducks the AA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. We also caught up with Zack soon after his start and discussed his start and what he has been working on since getting to AA in 2014.
Fastball: When Dodson started his professional career he was throwing the 4-seamed fastball, as he has worked his way through the Pirates organization he now throws the 2-seamed fastball. Over the course of Dodson’s 6 innings of work his fastball sat between 89-92 MPH and did not lose velocity as his pitch count increased. In his final inning of work Dodson hit 92 MPH three times. Dodson was able to locate the fastball and worked inside often against the opposition even hitting Ollie Linton in the first inning.
Change-Up: Dodson mixed in his Change-Up and used the offering to keep the opposition off-balance throughout the game. This pitch was consistent and sat at 84-85 MPH throughout the game.
Slider: Dodson used the slider to try to get some chases out of the zone with two strikes. The Akron hitters did not bite as Dodson did not record a strikeout during his six innings of work. The slider came in at 78-80 MPH mostly
Overall: Dodson threw total of 85 pitches with 58 being called a strike over the course of 6 innings. Over the course of his six frames, Dodson worked fast and located all his pitches well causing the Rubberduck batters to get mostly weak contact against him.
Inning By Inning:
In the first inning after getting a quick ground ball out, Dodson came inside and hit Ollie Linton with a pitch. With a runner on 1st and one out, Dodson induced a ground ball double play to end the inning. Dodson would make quick work of the Akron batters in the 2nd and 3rd innings with consecutive 1-2-3 innings with five of the six outs coming via the ground ball.
Dodson again got a quick out to start the fourth inning before Ollie Linton would reach base on an infield single just beating out the throw from second baseman Max Moroff. Just seconds later, Dodson flashed a quality pick off move as Linton broke for second base, 1st baseman Josh Bell delivered a strike to second to erase the speedy Linton. The third and final out of the fourth frame came via another ground out to shortstop Gift Ngoepe.
After yet another ground out to start the fifth inning, Jeremy Lucas laced a double for the first and only extra base hit allowed by Dodson on the day. This was the only hard hit ball against Dodson during his outing. Dodson followed by getting center fielder Jordan Smith to pop out and then went on to face catcher Tony Wolters with two outs in the inning. Wolters would get the best of Dodson, hitting a single to left field and looked to drive in the first run of the game for Akron. Willie Garcia launched a cannon towards home and Lucas was out by quite a bit to end the inning.
Dodson finished his sixth and final inning by getting another three ground ball outs including two comebackers to the mound that Dodson fielded himself.
Catching Up With Zack:
1. Last Season was your first full season in AA which many say is the biggest jump to make between all levels of baseball. What’s your thoughts on that and what did you learn from the 2014 season?
I think that is a very accurate statement. I made the jump last year and I did struggle with it. At this level there are a lot of returning hitters from the year before. You see less of that in the lower levels. Those hitters are already getting their second look at the league and are more prepared as to what to expect. It was a hard adjustment, hitters wouldn’t chase as much stuff. The hitters have a game plan, if you get away with one pitch and think you can throw it again they are going to smack it. It did take me some time to adjust but I think that going through this will make the adjustments getting to AAA and the big leagues easier.
2. In the offseason you have worked out with pitchers such as Jimmy Nelson of the Milwaukee Brewers and Jamison Taillon also of the Pirates. When working with other talented players are you able to pick up and learn things from them and their experiences?
This last off-season Jamison was down in Florida rehabbing but Jimmy and I still worked out a lot together. I learned a lot from Jimmy both directly and indirectly. He would talk about the big leagues and specifically about what his teammates would do. Jimmy’s work ethic is unbelievable. He would be at the gym and hour and a half early working out and it really inspired me. He made it to the big leagues so he know what needs to be done to get there and stay there. It motivated me to get to the facility earlier and do some of the things that he does.
Pitching wise he talked about some of his struggles last year and realizing that he needed to just get back to challenging guys. It always seems to come back to sometimes you get away from the things that give you success and you just got to get back to them. He also talked about his teammates and their work ethics and the effort they put in to things. There is so much more work that goes in to baseball than you ever realize when your back in high school.
3. You have never been a huge strike out guy during your professional career. Two starts in to the 2015 season you have recorded only one strikeout but have got a lot of ground ball outs. Is that part of your game plan and approach on the mound?
I’m not a guy who is going to over power hitters and in the long run I need to rely on my stuff to play down in the zone and have excellent command of my pitches. Going into the season I didn’t necessarily say I’m going to get away from trying to strike guys out I just think so far this year it’s just been a coincidence that I haven’t got many strikeouts. I have put myself in good position to strike guys out but haven’t always executed my strike out pitch. I also talked with my pitching coach, I haven’t had to show my breaking ball for a strike much yet. At this level if you can’t show guys breaking pitches for strikes then they really have no incentive to swing at it. I think as the season goes on and as teams force me to throw that pitch more for a strike it will create more swings and misses. Right now teams aren’t hitting my fastball and change-up so I don’t have to entice them with the breaking ball.
4. When we caught up with you in March of 2012 you were throwing a 4-seam fastball, curve and change-up. Your pitch mixed has changed. What pitches are you throwing in 2015 and what do you need to work on to continue to improve on the mound?
Since we last talked I started throwing a lot more 2-seam. The 2-seam fastball has really turned into my bread and butter pitch along with the change-up. The slider hasn’t replaced my curve but I went through a period where my curve just wasn’t sharp. The slider was another option. Since then my curve has started to come back but it’s not where I’d like it to be. The slider is something that can compliment that and at times last year was a go to pitch when I needed a strikeout.
5. Against Akron you kept their line-up off-balance, can you tell us a bit about the start and how you felt on the mound?
We had a short bullpen so my team was really counting on me to pitch deep into the game. My focus was more on trying to create contact and get off the mound each inning as quickly as possible. That was the best thing I could do for my team cause the team needed some innings out of me. My fast ball and change-up where really working well and they weren’t making good contact on those pitches. I got in a lot of good counts that forced the hitters to just try to put the ball in play and I had the defense behind me that made the plays.
1. Who is the biggest prankster on the Altoona Curve?
It’s still early in the season to say who it might be. I try to have fun with a lot of guys in the club house. Stetson is also a prankster he likes to have a lot of fun and always messing with me.
2. I know you’re a big Nascar fan and it’s early in the racing season but who is your pick to win the cup in 2015?
My favorite guy is Kyle Larsen. I don’t thing he is going to win the championship this year. I think Joey Lagano has a pretty good chance to win it all this year. He is off to a really good start this year.
3. Besides Altoona, where is your favorite places to play or visit in the Eastern League?
I haven’t got to pitch in the stadium yet but I really like Akron. It’s a really nice stadium and atmosphere there. Trenton is also another good place to play. I like pitching against the Yankee teams because I really like beating them.
A big thanks to Zack Dodson for taking time out of his day to talk with us. Be sure to follow Zack on twitter at @doddie011 and keep following him all season long as he works his way to AAA and the major leagues.