Zagone Has Quality Debut In High-A

Rick Zagone was selected in the sixth round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft and he is quickly rising through the Orioles system. He dominated Aberdeen in his pro debut and got off to a fast start in Delmarva for 2009. He struggled in June, but after earning All Star honors in the South Atlantic League, he is now pitching for Frederick. Inside, get the scoop on Zagone.

Despite struggling through June in Delmarva, 2008 sixth-round draft pick Rick Zagone took a no-decision in his high-A debut with the Frederick Keys Sunday night.

In the first two months of the season, he combined to go 4-3 with a 1.92 ERA in nine games. Overall, he was 4-5 with a 4.66 ERA. He struck out 59 batters while walking 27 batters in 63.2 innings. In 2008, with Aberdeen, Zagone struck out 79 batters and only walked 14 in 65.1 innings.

However, something went wrong in June. Zagone only pitched 12.0 innings in four starts, giving up 22 earned runs, striking out seven and walking 10. South Atlantic League batters hit .463 off of him when they only hit .154 in April and .215 in May.

"I was having trouble locating [my fastball], I fell out of sync with it," Zagone said of his struggles. "I just fell into a little slump, my arm went dead for a little while. I started lifting a little more and got back into my routine and felt better my last couple of outings."

He was able to improve his numbers in June by saving face in his Carolina League debut against the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Zagone turned in his first quality start since May 26th, but could net get his first win since May 21st after the bullpen blew a 6-0 lead in the eighth and ninth innings.

As for Zagone's confidence, it is back on the rise after getting back to where he was earlier in the season.

"I think it was a great game," Zagone said. "The guys made great plays behind me and I'm just happy to be here."

The great plays he was referring to happened throughout the game. Wilmington had a good chance to score in the first inning, but centerfilder Matt Angle threw out Johnny Giavotella at the plate to end the first. He then got a pair of nice plays in the third inning. Third baseman Brandon Waring made a diving stop to his left and fired across the diamond to rob Ryan Eigsti of a hit. Later in the inning, Caleb Joseph threw out Adrian Ortiz trying to steal third.

Despite his high strikeout totals, Zagone is a control pitcher, and likes to get early contact and groundouts. Even in his struggles, he was still getting more groundouts than flyouts. In Delmarva, he averaged 2.35 Go/Ao. His high strikeout rates may not stay above one per inning as he moves up the system, but he has good enough changes in velocity on his pitches, in addition to good command, to rack up the K's for now.

Keys pitching coach Kennie Steenstra heard similar things about Zagone and liked what he saw Sunday.

"He pitched very well," Steenstra said. "I heard he was a strike-thrower and he was going to have guys put the ball in play, and he did that tonight. He went after guys, mixed it up, was a little deceptive with his deliver, I think. It was all we heard he'd be."

Zagone said his velocity fell off a bit in Delmarva, but Sunday he was able to pick it back up. He usually rests at about 88 mph with his two-seam fastball and that is where he said he was today. Steenstra mentioned that Zagone throws a slider and changeup to compliment his fastball, both in the upper 70's. He did not throw many changeups against the Blue Rocks because their lineup had a lot of left-handed batters, and Steenstra also said that he threw roughly 70 percent fastballs.

Another part of his game that should not be overlooked is his control over base-runners. Zagone had picked off nine bas-runners while pitching with Delmarva and did not disappoint in his debut. He picked off Derrick Robinson, the Carolina League leader in stolen bases with 35, the first time Robinson reached base for his 10th pickoff of 2009.

"I knew he was going to try to take on me first move, especially since it was my first start today," Zagone said. "I bet he was just trying to get something going and once I saw him going, I got it over [to first base] pretty quick... you just got to be aware when he's on base."

Zagone has a high leg kick, even when runners are on base, but he lifts it straight up and down, allowing him to adjust to runners if the break, while keeping theme at first longer, not knowing if he is going home, or back to first. Runners that did reach base on him were taking a step back, guessing, at times, even when Zagone would throw home.

"You worry a little bit about a guy that has that big of a leg kick, whether he's going to be able to mix it up a little bit," Steenstra said. "He did a good job of keeping guys off balance."

Orioles fans can hope that Zagone's June was just a fluke, and for one night, he appeared to be back on track.

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