Age Just A Number for Brad Ziegler

Now 26 years old, Brad Ziegler is still winning. He's won at the "High-A" levels, the Independent Leagues, and now at Double-A for the Midland RockHounds.

Of course, winning has never been Brad Ziegler's problem. Over the course of the right-hander's career, Ziegler has 33 winning decisions to 16 losses.

In that regard, not much has changed for Ziegler in his first full year above A-ball this season. He's gone 9-5 despite a career-high 16 home runs allowed for the second-half Texas League South champion Hounds, winners of 10 straight games entering the day Sunday.

As luck would have it, the post-season has followed Ziegler around since joining the A's. Last year's Stockton team, who Ziegler was a part of for most all year, won 42 games in the second half to win the California League's Northern Division by one game. The Modesto A's also made the playoffs in Ziegler's first year with the organization in 2004.

Drafted by the Philadelphia Philles in the 20th round in 2003, Ziegler went on to pitch in just six innings for the organization's Class Low-A short-season affiliate in the New York-Penn League. One injury later and Ziegler found himself relegated to the Indy League's for the start of '04.

Then, the A's called, and Ziegler rewarded them with nine victories and a respectable 3.90 ERA in 15 starts – not overly bad numbers for someone pitching in Advanced-A ball after barely getting his feet wet in short-season competition the previous year.

This season, Ziegler finally got his first full taste of Double-A after two straight years in High-A, even breaking the Triple-A level for four starts beginning in mid-July. He had hoped his stay with Sacramento would be more long-lasting, but understood his chances took a hit with Joe Kennedy, Scott Sauerbeck and Jay Witasick all on rehab stints with the team.

Now, Ziegler is back with Midland and shoring up for the Hounds' post-season run.

"It's been a very successful season for both me and my team," Ziegler said. "We've played great in the second half. My wins and ERA are totally a tribute to how my team has played behind me. I'm not going to win if we don't score runs. I don't strike out a lot of guys. I don't even try to."

For someone who doesn't go for the strikeout, Ziegler sure had a funny thing come his way in 2005. Playing in High-A for the second straight year, he led the California League in strikeouts with 144 in 141 innings. Just as impressive, he walked only 20 batters in that span.

Yet he insists the strikeout isn't something he dwells upon.

"I try to make them hit it to our defense because we've had the best defense in the league this season," Ziegler insists. "It's comforting to know that when the ball is put in play, most of the time our guys are there to make the play."

Midland has in fact had the Texas League's best defense statistically all year. The team has a combined .982 fielding percentage, highest in the league.

On first glance, it would seem Ziegler's magic number is nine. That's the minimum number of wins he's had for the A's farm system in each of his first three seasons to date. He won nine games in his first season with the A's in 2004, nine more at Stockton last season (plus two more at Midland in four starts there), and currently nine with the Hounds this season.

His strikeouts are down from last year, but so is his ERA. This season, Ziegler has logged 160 2/3 innings. He put together 162 innings last season and 116 innings between the A's and the Independent Schaumberg Flyers in '04.

Staying healthy and eating up a lot of innings is something the Kansas-born Ziegler takes pride in.

"I pride myself on not missing any starts for injury," says Ziegler, who missed only one scheduled start at Sacramento earlier this season. "I've been very fortunate to remain healthy and a lot of that goes into the strength and conditioning programs in this organization. It leads to going deeper into games and staying healthy."

Ziegler will be 27 when spring camp begins next year and he'll be a minor league free agent once this season ends. Despite being older than most Double-A players, the A's would figure to want to keep Ziegler around based on his durability if nothing else. It also doesn't hurt that he has the second best ERA in the farm system for anyone with over 100 innings.

Combined, Ziegler and Midland teammate Brad Knox have eaten up more than 320 innings this year.

As much success as Ziegler has had in terms of durability, though, it might almost have never happened. Being a 20th-round pick by the Phillies three years ago, he knew he wasn't exactly the first pitcher on the organization's wish list that year, but he figured to stick around for more than just three lousy appearances in Low-A ball.

"I know that the 20th round isn't a very high pick," Ziegler said, "but there are also a lot of useful guys that have come from that round. I just never got a chance with them."

Ziegler was drafted out of Southwest Missouri State in Springfield, Mo. He suffered with a partially torn labrum through much of his tenure with the Phillies, but rehabbed it enough to return to Spring Training in 2004. He was subsequently released due to questions over his health and the fact that the Phillies had upwards of 85-90 pitchers vying for a spot on full-season teams.

"Whatever priority system they had in place," Ziegler said of the Phillies, "I was at the bottom of that list. They told me when I was in the office being released that they didn't think I could pitch in Low A for them again, because I was too old to go back to short-season ball."

After the release, Ziegler soon picked up an Indy League contract with Schaumberg. He and his agent had been in contact with the A's almost immediately after he was let go by the Phillies, as Oakland had drafted the right-hander previously on the second day of the 2002 draft following his first year of college at age 22.

"I knew there was at least some possible interested by the A's," Ziegler said. "When I started out pitching really well for [the Flyers], the A's offered me a chance and let me get started in their system."

Now that he's enjoyed some success with the A's, Ziegler hopes to return to their system again next year. He self-describes himself as being "mostly a sinker-slider guy" with an assortment of off-speed pitches to keep hitters honest. He knows his biggest attributes are commanding his pitches and inducing groundball outs.

"Hopefully they'll want to bring me back," Ziegler said of the A's. "Once we get that settled, I can jump back in and start preparing for next season."

Ziegler believes his age is just a number.

"In general, when I look at other teams' rosters, I know I'm older than a lot of prospects," Ziegler said. "But with the A's, they've generally always drafted college players. When I went up to Triple-A, I would guess I was in the younger half of the pitching staff."

"Theoretically," he added, "this is only my second full season in baseball. There's not a lot I can do about that now. I was in some unfortunate situations before and am just trying to make the most of it. If I continue to move up, great. If not, I'm still having fun playing baseball. I'm not as concerned about it as a lot of people sometimes make it out to be."

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