After pitching last season in West Virginia with good results, Zack Dodson seemed like a surprise returner to the Power roster this year. He did miss some time with a hand injury, but in his 13 starts for West Virginia the 2009 fourth round draft pick put up a 2.57 ERA with good control (15 walks in 64.1 IP), a .246 BAA and a strong 1.44 GO/AO ratio. Those numbers earned him a ranking just outside the Pirates Prospects top twenty in our 2012 Prospect Guide.
Dodson began this year with an average April — he had a 4.50 ERA, but it came with decent strikeout rate. In the month of May and June things went south, with monthly ERA’s over 6.00 and diminishing strikeout totals. Since the SAL All-Star break though, Dodson has turned things around, posting a 3.44 ERA with a much improved groundball rate over earlier in the year. Four out of his last seven outings have resulted in quality starts, with another just missing due to his inning total and his last start fell short of that stat despite throwing five shutout innings in Greensboro on Wednesday.
I saw Dodson working in the bullpen with pitching coach Willie Glen before the Friday game in Lakewood, and I caught up with him afterwards for a few questions.
Dodson was treating the bullpen session like a game situation, focusing on his changeup.
“My changeup hasn’t been as good these past couple of games, so we were just getting the feel for that, and the breaking ball,” Dodson said. He noted that his bullpens over the last month have been much better with their tempo and focus.
I noticed that they had the catcher Elias Diaz positioned at different distances all throughout the bullpen session, the reasoning on that was different for each pitch they threw.
“We moved him (Diaz) back to force me to really get out there with the changeup, and feel it out front,” Dodson said.
When they moved Diaz in, it allows Dodson to cut it off more than he does in a game. Dodson can get extended with his curve, allowing the pitch to get loopy. By bringing the catcher close, he puts more emphasis on pulling down on the ball.
As mentioned above, he has had some strong outings recently, including six innings with no earned runs against Lakewood four starts ago, followed by a seven inning complete game with just one run allowed. So what does he attribute this recent success to?
“Just having better work days and not worrying about the things I can’t control,” Dodson said.
He also had some help from another holdover from last year’s West Virginia staff, Zack Von Rosenberg, that led to an adjustment.
“Zack noticed a couple of weeks ago that my arm slot was higher than last year, so I dropped it a little and it has been coming a lot cleaner and a little more consistent,” Dodson noted. Those changes have led to that 3.44 ERA and a 24:12 K/BB ratio in 36.2 innings since the South Atlantic League All-Star break.
While we see the results in the game, there are some more things on the way for Dodson, who knows there are things to work on all the time. He’s been throwing a 78-83 MPH slider that he threw prior to signing in 2009. The Pirates scrapped the pitch, which they do for most young pitchers to get them focused primarily on their curveball. He’s recently started throwing the pitch off of flat ground and in bullpen sessions.
“I don’t have the command or the ability to throw it consistently enough yet,” Dodson said of adding the pitch to his current arsenal.
There could be even more on the way, including a different look on his fastball.
“I’m going to start implementing a two-seam this off-season, to get it ready for next year,” Dodson said. He noted that the two-seam doesn’t sink much, which gives the pitch a lot of run without losing velocity.
He believes the second fastball is a good pitch for him and it’s possible we may see him with a five pitch arsenal next year, working between a low 90’s fastball and a curveball that was consistently 75 MPH when I saw him last month.
While some may think by now a pitcher drafted in 2009 should be further along at this point, it just proves there is so much to work on and part of that is finding which pitches work for you. Recent history with Dodson shows that the hard work is beginning to pay off.