Ziegler took on both challenges and, despite having to learn a new role and a new throwing motion, he managed to put together arguably his most impressive professional season to date. Ziegler began the season in Double-A Midland, where he went 4-0 with a 1.14 ERA in 23.3 innings for the Rockhounds. He was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento in May, and he quickly became one of the go-to guys in the River Cats' bullpen. In 35 appearances for the River Cats, Ziegler went 8-3 with a 2.96 ERA. Between Midland and Sacramento, Ziegler compiled a career-high 12 wins and a career-low in ERA at 2.41.
Despite the good numbers, Ziegler admits that there was adjustment period for him this season as he got used to his new throwing motion.
"Once I started dropping down, the more I have done it, the more comfortable I have gotten with it. It really helps that the defense is making plays behind me because I know that all I have to do is get the ball down and get the ball on the ground and we are going to get outs."
On Saturday, Ziegler earned the win in the River Cats' dramatic 10th inning, walk-off victory over the Salt Lake Bees in Game Four of their Divisional Series. Ziegler worked 2.2 scoreless innings in that game, and he induced a number of groundball outs, including one come-backer that he had to handle himself. Throwing to a base can be tricky for pitchers with sidearm throwing motions because the natural movement of a ball thrown sidearm is downward. Ziegler has addressed that problem by using his natural over-hand throwing motion when he is making non-pitching throws.
Ziegler has also had to work hard at getting out left-handed hitters. Sidearmers traditionally struggle against the opposite-hand hitters. On the season, left-handers hit .349 against Ziegler, while right-handers managed only a .176 BA. However, Ziegler has improved against left-handers as the season has gone on. On Saturday, he faced two lefties with the game on-the-line. Ziegler walked the first left-hander he faced, DH Greg Porter. However, in the 10th inning, he struck out switch-hitter Tommy Murphy, who was batting left.
"I definitely feel more comfortable [against lefties]. I have worked really hard on that through the month of June and July. When [Greg] Porter came up, he's got a lot of power, so I wasn't going to let him hurt me. If I was going to get some calls down in the strikezone, great, but I wasn't going to let him hit a homerun off of me. And with [Tommy] Murphy, I was trying to attack him because he is a huge threat to steal and with one-out, you don't want that," Ziegler said.
Ziegler also points to his brief experience in Triple-A in 2006 as something that helped him have success with Sacramento this season. In 2006, Ziegler made four starts for the River Cats, but he struggled, posting a 6.00 ERA in 21 innings. Even though he was a starter last season, he was able to build off of that experience. He gained familiarity both with the River Cats and with the Pacific Coast League in general during that stint in 2006 that helped him adjust to Triple-A in 2007.
"It's definitely more comfortable [in Triple-A this season]. I feel like I have seen all of the hitters now, so there aren't any big surprises like there was when you jumped to a new level," Ziegler said.
Ziegler also praised his veteran teammates for helping him feel comfortable in the River Cats' clubhouse.
"This is a great clubhouse. The older players have made it so easy to step in and feel like you are part of the team," Ziegler said.
With a season of Triple-A baseball under his belt, Ziegler may be coming closer to realizing his dream of making the big leagues. However, Ziegler is keeping himself 100 percent focused on competing at Triple-A and helping the River Cats win a PCL title.
"I hope that I am moving closer, but at the same time, my main focus right now is this [winning a PCL title]. Obviously, it is everyone's main goal and there isn't a guy in this clubhouse who I wouldn't want to play with up in Oakland," Ziegler said.
"I hope everyone gets a call-up and that they reward us that way, but at the same time whether it is this year, next year or two years from now, I'm not as concerned about that as I am with just going out and trying to do my job every time out."
Since Ziegler signed with the A's as a minor league free agent during the 2004 season, he is granted free agency at the end of every season. Consequently, the first baseball-related focus of his off-season will be signing a contract for the next season.
"I'm a free agent, so the first thing that has to happen [this off-season] is to see if the A's want me back," Ziegler said.
Last season, Ziegler was sent to the A's Instructional League in Arizona to work on developing his new sidearm delivery. This off-season, Ziegler's time will be occupied with a delivery of a different kind. He and his wife are expecting their first child in October, and he is looking forward to diving into fatherhood this off-season.
"I'm really excited. We can't wait," Ziegler said.