Zack Dodson is off to a great start in Altoona this year. Entering his outing on Tuesday night, he hasn’t given up a run in 12 innings, with just one walk allowed. That’s a great thing for a guy who has dealt with control problems in the past, and for a guy who put up a 4.62 ERA at the same level last season. The downside here is that Dodson has just one strikeout this season, which doesn’t give him a strong chance to repeat these numbers going forward.
I saw Dodson in his last outing on April 19th. He went six shutout innings, giving up four hits and hitting one batter. He didn’t issue a walk, and didn’t get any strikeouts. Most of the game saw him getting ahead of batters by pitching inside to both left-handers and right-handers. But he lacked a good breaking pitch to put anyone away when he got to two strike counts.
The plus side here is that Dodson did a great job that night of pitching inside to right-handers, which is something that can be difficult for some lefties. That has always been one of his strengths. Altoona pitching coach Justin Meccage compared him to another Pirates left-hander in that approach.
“That’s something that he has done really well in the past, and that’s something he’s going to have to continue to do, kind of like Jeff Locke,” Meccage said on Dodson pitching inside to right-handers. “He does a good job on that side of the plate too.”
Dodson uses a four-seam fastball to get inside to right-handers, setting up the outer half of the plate for his two-seam fastball, which is his primary pitch. It hasn’t always been this successful early in the season.
“Something that I haven’t done well enough early on in seasons in my career is getting in to righties to open up that two-seam side of the plate,” Dodson said. “That’s something I’ve been able to execute better in Spring Training and leading up to this point.”
The command of the fastball has been a lot better, shown by the one walk allowed, and the fact that he’s throwing 65% of his pitches for strikes. But he’s going to need a good breaking pitch to have success going forward.
Dodson had a good curveball in the lower levels, but the pitch looked like it had taken a step back and wasn’t as sharp. He said that his mechanics fell apart last year, which could have led to the change.
“The curveball is still pretty good. It hasn’t been as sharp as I like it to be,” Dodson said. “As the season goes on, we’ll start throwing more breaking balls early in the game, early in the count.”
Dodson noted that he wasn’t going heavy with the curveball early in games in his early starts, since that didn’t match up with the game plan against those teams. That has been a focus for all pitchers in Altoona, focusing on pitching to the opponents, rather than working on developing specific pitches.
“He’s going to need some pitchability, and now is the time to start learning that,” Meccage said.
Dodson throws a four-seam fastball, two seam fastball, changeup, curveball, and a slider that he added in the second half of last season. He doesn’t have a plus offering, relying mostly on command and mixing up his pitches. But Meccage said there is work to be done with the breaking stuff, and that was a focus for them in the bullpen work after that last outing.
Dodson’s mixture is similar to Locke, and his approach is the same, with a focus on pitching and locating spots. The difference is that Locke can put guys away with his curveball when needed. Dodson starts tonight for Altoona, which will give an opportunity to showcase how last week’s focus impacted his breaking stuff. He’s going to need to show improvements there in order to continue his strong start, and have a chance to fulfill that Jeff Locke comp.