This past Friday, Zack Dodson had his best start of the season. The left-hander struck out eight batters in seven shutout innings while only throwing 78 pitches. His outing was extremely efficient which can be attributed to mixing in a variety of pitches to keep batters off balanced.
Dodson did a great job executing his pitches down in the zone on Friday night. Going into this season, he had good control of his fastball and changeup, but he struggled locating the curveball and recently developed slider. On this night, it was obvious that he felt comfortable throwing any of his pitches and locating it where he wanted. Of the 78 pitches he threw, 50 were thrown for strikes.
The pitch that Dodson had not been able to throw so far this season until Friday night was a strike out pitch. Going into the game, he only had eight strikeouts in five starts (plus one relief appearance), and he struck out eight in seven innings on Friday. Early in the game, he used the changeup as a two strike pitch, which resulted in him striking out the side in the first inning. For the rest of the game, he was able to interchange his slider and changeup with two strikes. His curveball was also locating well which got a batter looking in the sixth inning.
“Past this year, my fastball and changeup have been there every start,” Dodson said. “When it came to my slider and curveball, my execution wasn’t there. I’ve been working on repeating my delivery and spin, and I have been much more comfortable.”
Dodson is now fourth in the Eastern League with a 1.75 ERA in 36 innings pitched. He is throwing a strike 65% of the time, which is an improvement over his 63% thrown last season. His strikeout rate is slightly down from last year, but his BB% is down from 16.7% in 2013 and 8.5% in 2014 to 3.8% this year. Batters are hitting .214 against him this year, compared to .285 last year and .421 in 2013.
There is also the intangible fact that he is pitching more with a sense of urgency. This is the last year of his professional contract with the Pirates, and Dodson says that it is the most important year of his life. With that in mind, he seems to be taking a more mature approach to his appearances than in the past. He is noticeably leaner after cutting weight in the offseason. Dodson has said that he changed his diet over the offseason to cleaner eating. The weight loss has helped him be able to repeat his delivery, which is something that he says is key to his early season success.
“This is it,” Dodson said. “I have to make something happen now. I think the sense of urgency has been helpful, but I’m finally having a little bit of everything come together while I’m out there.”