No place like home for Parker

FRISCO - After being signed to a minor league contract last week, left-hander Zack Parker gave up four runs in five innings in his debut with Double-A Frisco. Lone Star Dugout features the pitcher, who is a 26-year-old native of Texas.

Left-hander Zack Parker became the newest member of the Rangers organization when the club signed him on May 16.

A native of Texas and a resident of Austin, Parker pitched seven seasons in the Colorado Rockies system after being drafted in the 21st round of the 2000 MLB Draft. Parker had success early in his career, but struggled to stay healthy and effective with Double-A Tulsa in 2006 and 2007, leading to his release last summer.

It didn't take long for Parker to receive a call from the Lancaster Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League. The lefty says he was surprised to be picked up so quickly.

"Even though it was an independent league," said Parker, "it was pretty risky because my numbers were bad because I wasn't healthy. I think last year I had more walks than strikeouts in Tulsa."

Parker pitched well with the Barnstormers to close out the 2007 season, going 6-1 with a 2.49 ERA in nine appearances. He returned to the club for the start of the '08 campaign and picked up where he left off. In his four starts this season, Parker allowed only four runs on 18 hits in 27.1 innings.

Although he won't light up any radar guns [Parker's fastball ranges from the mid- to upper-80s], the lefty throws an assortment of offspeed pitches to help keep hitters off-balance.

"I'm a sinker, cutter guy that throws changeups and curveballs too," explained Parker. "I like to go after contact. I don't really like to strike too many people out. I try to keep my pitch count low and get a lot of contact early in the count with my sinker and cutter."

Parker has been able to revitalize his career with the cutter, a pitch he didn't pick up until last season.

"About last year I started falling in love with [the cutter]," he said. "My arm wasn't feeling great, so my velocity was down and I really didn't have a lot of command of my fastball. I needed something that looked like a fastball but had some sort of movement."

Part of the reason Parker's cutter is so effective is because of his ability to change speeds with it. When he throws the pitch in the mid-80s, it acts more like a cut fastball. But when it comes in at 82 mph, the pitch acts more like a true slider. Even though it appears to be a slider, Parker says it's still the cutter.

"I don't ever consider myself throwing true sliders," said the 26-year-old, "but I can kind of make my cutter a little bit bigger. It is considered a slider, but in my mind I'm just a cutter guy. I basically throw my cutter a couple of different speeds and one of them kind of turns into a slider."

When the Rangers approached the hurler about signing him to a minor league contract, the native Texan was ecstatic about the opportunity to play in his home state.

"I played in Tulsa, but actually playing here in Frisco is almost a dream," he said. "It's great. Also being in the southern division and getting to stay down south near Austin rather than up north so much. This is a really nice fit."

After signing with the Rangers on a Monday, Parker made the 1,423 mile drive from Lancaster, Pa., to Frisco in time for last Friday's start. The left-hander had mixed results in his first outing, giving up four runs on six hits in five innings. He walked three and struck out four.

"I think the numbers aren't great but I feel like the whole game came down to a couple of pitches," Parker said. "I could have gotten a couple of breaks one way or the other. Overall I felt pretty good. It was a crazy week, getting the call and then having to make that long drive. I'm satisfied but I definitely expect to do better than four runs in five innings."

As if it did not show from his numbers in Lancaster, Parker is also confident because he is completely healthy for the first time in a couple of years.

"I feel like health-wise I'm 100 percent," he said after his first start in Frisco. "But I feel like I'm still building up strength. I'm not at 100 percent of what I'm capable of doing. It's still fairly early in the season for me because we started late. I've only got about 25 or 30 innings under my belt, but I feel like I'm starting to get that strength back."

Going forward, Parker just wants to remain healthy and take his season one step at a time.

"I just want to stay healthy and take it outing-to-outing," said Parker. "If I get too far ahead of myself, that's where I've gotten into trouble in the past. I take it really day-to-day, but I just look to my next outing and that's all I really want to focus on."

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