Zach Clark, just one year removed from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, can easily go unnoticed. His fastball won't overpower many batters, but he can use his plus command to keep batters off balance.
In 2006, during his first foray into professional baseball, Clark compiled a 5-4 record with a 2.11 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in rookie-level Bluefield. However, a brief promotion to short-season Aberdeen didn't go nearly as well. He surrendered 9 earned runs in just 11 innings. However, none of this mattered to him as he set his personal goals heading into spring training.
"Just to get better; throw strikes, get my work in, get in shape," Clark told Inside The Warehouse. "I was just trying to get better at everything."
After an impressive showing in extended spring training, Clark was honored to be named the opening day starter for the Aberdeen Ironbirds.
"It was cool. It was a good feeling. I was glad. I didn't find out until [the day before opening day]."
The good feeling clearly carried over into his game and, if it sticks, he could become one of the better pitchers on the Aberdeen staff. On a limited pitch count, it was encouraging to see him get through 5 innings and into the 6th. Clark is hopeful that his first start in more indicative of what lies ahead than his rough finish in 2006.
"Clean slate. Just trying to go out here and get outs. Defense worked for me; I think I got a bunch of ground balls and they just got the outs."
"My two-seam [was] getting ground balls. [I] got ahead of some guys. Late, I started to get behind some guys, had to throw some off-speed pitches, but I was throwing my fastball for strikes"
While many young pitchers rely on their fastball up in the zone to blow batters away, Clark takes a different approach. He'll use the fastball on both sides of the place, but up is where opponents will never find it. He gave up just 1 home run last year, largely due to this tendency. On opening night for the Ironbirds, he punched out 4, but racked up an impressive 10 groundouts without allowing a single flyball.
Calvin Maduro, Pitching Coach for the Aberdeen Ironbirds, concurs with Clark's assessment of his own game.
"Before the game started, I told Zach Clark just to attack the hitters," Maduro explained. "Just come out of the gate attacking them. He threw 66 pitches; 56 were fastballs. He used his fastball pretty much all night and it was successful."
"His game is control. He's a control guy. He walked 2 guys, but if you watched the game, they were close pitches; it wasn't all over the place."
Clark looked dominant, if only for one night, to kick start Aberdeen's season. His struggles to finish out last season leave some questions unanswered, but if he is able to carry over his success from opening day, he can earn the right to be taken seriously as a pitcher in the Orioles' system.
"All he can do is be consistent. He has the stuff to pitch. All he needs to do is be consistent."
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