Parker Enjoying Success as Pitcher

After being drafted as a catcher by the Chicago Cubs from the University of Arkansas in 2006, 23-year-old Blake Parker would make his pitching debut the following summer in the short-season Northwest League.

Parker spent his first season pitching at Low Class-A Boise last summer. In eight appearances, the right-hander was 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA, 10 strikeouts and seven walks in 11 1/3 innings. He also hit five batters and surrendered 15 hits.

But this season, Parker has mowed down hitters since beginning his season in the chilly Midwest, where he would go on to garner a spot on the 2008 Midwest League All-Star roster with Class-A Peoria. He recently earned a promotion to Class High-A Daytona after posting a 1.33 ERA and holding opponents to a .193 average over 47-plus innings with the Chiefs.

Sandwiched in between was a brief stay at Class AAA Iowa when Parker was promoted there just over two weeks ago in an effort to provide depth to a team that was scheduled to play back-to-back doubleheaders. It was an expectedly short-lived stint, but it allowed Parker to take stock of his surroundings.

"You work so hard to get moved up through the season … you finally get the call-up, whether it's one level or a fill-in at a couple levels above you. It's definitely rewarding," said Parker, who grew up in Fayetteville, near the Arkansas Razorbacks campus.

"I think the big thing about getting moved up, if you know it's just going to be for a few days," he said, "is to learn something and to get something out of it. Going up there was good for me to know that you play the same game between the lines, whether its rookie ball, Triple-A or the big leagues. You have to play the same game. If you take that approach and give it everything you've got, things will work out."

Parker has since made four appearances with the Daytona club. He allowed two runs in 1 1/3 innings in his second game with the team on July 5 at Brevard County, but otherwise has tossed three scoreless outings for Daytona.

"I've been lucky enough to throw strikes and get ahead of the batters like I have all year. When you do that, good things happen," Parker said. "One of the innings I pitched, I got behind on one of the hitters and he hit the ball hard. That's what they're supposed to do. When you make a mistake, you're going to pay for it a lot more."

But Parker is still in the infancy of his pitching career, and mistakes are to be expected. He garnered only 147 at-bats in 2006, batting .224 between the Arizona Rookie League and Peoria before the Cubs approached him about a position switch.

Parker had done some pitching in his prep days at Fayetteville High School, but spent most of his college days at third base with some playing time in the outfield and at catcher. When Chicago announced Parker's name on draft day with their 16th-round selection two years ago, they listed his position as catcher.

"They had come up to me and asked what I thought of pitching last year in extended spring training," recalled Parker. "I was thinking (of entering the draft) out of high school as a pitcher, but nothing ever happened … They asked if I wanted to (try pitching) and I said that I was open for everything. It's turned out pretty good."

Even in high school, Parker says he featured four pitches: a slider and splitfinger in addition to his fastball and changeup. When he began the move to pitcher with the Cubs, he tried to bring back his splitter only to discover he lacked control of the pitch.

Since then, he's relied primarily on the slider as his breaking pitch.

"If you throw just a few pitches, and you can throw them all for strikes, you don't need to have four or five pitches," said Parker.

His fastball, meanwhile, has been clocked as high as 95 mph, he said.

"They gun us at every game," said Parker. "We have a man with the gun charting us every pitch. When they first moved me, in Mesa I was anywhere from 88 to 92 (mph). I was topping out at 94. The other day in Iowa, I was 93 to 95."

Parker boasts that his success this season, which included a string 13 1/3 straight scoreless innings on one occasion and another string of 14 straight scoreless innings with Peoria, is largely about attitude.

"You go out there and you know that you're going to get the job done, and you know that, for a lack of a better word, you're better than the person standing in that batter's box," he said. "If you take that approach and mentality, and you go right after hitters with strike one and strike two, everything else will work itself out."

The move has exceeded his own expectations, Parker said.

"You want to set goals for yourself," he said. "I set my goals and one of them for the beginning of this year was to make the All-Star team. I think it's important to set goals and achieve them because it will make you work harder."

"It's a grind, but you know what you've got to do and you just have to go get it done," added Parker. "The main thing is to get ahead of hitters and throw strikes. You can overpower (hitters) by just throwing all of your pitches for strikes."


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