Parker a cut above the rest

FRISCO - With a 0.92 ERA in his last 39 innings, Frisco left-hander Zack Parker has been one of the Texas League's most dominant pitchers in the second half of the season. Parker continued rolling on Friday night, when he pitched a season-high seven innings and allowed only one run. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the hurler after a recent game.

Left-hander Zack Parker pitched parts of the 2005, 2006, and 2007 seasons with the Tulsa Drillers of the Double-A Texas League. In the last two seasons, he combined to post an 8.27 ERA in 62.0 innings pitched. The performance eventually led to his release.

Parker then signed on with the independent Lancaster Barnstormers. He finished his '07 campaign with the club, going 6-1 with a 2.49 ERA in 50.2 innings. The Austin native had similar success to begin this season, as he surrendered only four earned runs in 27.1 innings over four starts with the club.

Just before Parker was let go by the Rockies last season, he began to pick up a cut fastball. The pitch not only developed into Parker's go-to offering in Lancaster, but it also enticed the Rangers to give him a second opportunity at affiliated baseball.

Since signing with the Rangers in May, the 26-year-old [Parker turns 27 on August 19] has been one of the system's most pleasant surprises.

In 60.1 innings with Double-A Frisco this season, Parker has a 3-1 record with a 3.13 ERA. But even those solid numbers are not indicative of how Parker has pitched since settling in with the ‘Riders.

Parker held a 7.17 ERA with a .364 opponent batting average after his first 21.1 innings with the club. Since then, he has pitched 39 innings and allowed just four earned runs [0.92 ERA] on 27 hits. He has struck out 35 and walked 16 in that span.

Because Parker had previously been released and was signed as a minor league free agent, he will become a free agent once again after the 2008 season. But with his outstanding second half, the Rangers will almost certainly attempt to bring the southpaw back for another season.

Jason Cole: What are your thoughts on your season since you have signed with the Rangers organization?

Zack Parker: I'm feeling good. I am glad I got this opportunity to come here and get to stay pitching. They stuck with me when I started out pretty tough and it has turned out to be a pretty good summer. I'm glad to be here.

Cole: You mentioned the rough start, but you are pitching really well lately. What has been the difference for you?

Parker: Just kind of working out the kinks. I didn't really have a spring training, so I was working out some kinks and getting my arm 100 percent in shape. Once I got my arm in shape, it was just getting the confidence back. I've been pounding the zone.

Cole: Are you pitching or attacking hitters differently than you did at first?

Parker: No, just mentality-wise. I'm going out there a lot more aggressive and a lot more confident. My arm feels good, so I can kind of just let it rip and not worry about spotting up too much – just kind of attacking the zone.

Cole: Now that you have gotten more experience with your cutter against Double-A hitters, how do you feel about it?

Parker: That is definitely my go-to pitch. I'm trying to work it out to where I can use it in different situations and try to throw other pitches off of it. But it is definitely my go-to pitch and I have gotten to where I can control it pretty well so I can use it early in the count or late in the count. It has really been a corner turner for me.

Cole: When I spoke with you last time, you said you might actually rely on the cutter too much. Have you improved on that?

Parker: Yeah, I think I have gotten more confident with the changeup and working off the cutter. The cutter can be effective, but it can be a lot more effective if I use my other pitches with it. The changeup, the four-seam fastball, and mixing in a curveball every now and then really makes it an even better pitch.

Cole: I also think you said last time that you add on and take off from your cutter at times, is that correct?

Parker: Yeah. If it's an 0-2 count, I'll try and really bury it for a strikeout. Whether it is 2-0 and I'm just trying to throw it for a strike, I'll take a little bit off. But it is still a pretty hard pitch – pretty though for those guys to react to.

Cole: You have done some starting recently again. How difficult was that, being a guy that had been coming out of the bullpen?

Parker: I think it was harder adjusting going to the bullpen, first off. It is easier to adjust going back because I have done it my whole life. I got to where I feel pretty confident going either way. It is definitely a different mentality, but I feel comfortable and feel like I can pitch out of either.

Cole: How long did it take for you to feel good coming out of the bullpen?

Parker: It took me about three weeks. It wasn't until about the second half – right after the All-Star break – that I felt really confident and comfortable coming out. It was just an adjustment period. I was thinking at first that I had to do too much and then realized that I could just come in and do my thing without trying to change who I was.

Cole: When you were struggling out of the bullpen, were you just having trouble getting warmed up without going through the whole starting routine?

Parker: I think I was just trying to do too much. I would go out there and try to do more than I was capable of and I'd fall behind. Finally I just said, ‘You know what, after I come out of the pen I'm just going to pretend like it's the first inning of the game.' I just wanted to attack the guys rather than try to strike everybody out. You kind of think in the bullpen that you need to punch out more guys, but if you just do your thing, it doesn't matter. If you've got good enough stuff and an idea of what you're doing, it doesn't matter if you're starting or relieving.

Cole: Lately your strikeout rate has even gone up quite a bit. What do you feel has been the key to that?

Parker: Just pounding the zone and not nibbling. Just getting ahead of them. If I get ahead of them, I can finish them off with the cutter, the changeup, or something. Before, I was nitpicking, going 2-0, so I was having to try and get contact 2-0. If I can get a first pitch strike or a foul ball, I feel like I can really go after them and try to go for a swing and miss.

Cole: Have the Rangers said anything about whether you will be in the rotation for the rest of the season or are you just kind of playing it by ear?

Parker: I think I'm just playing it by ear. We've got some young guys coming up, but we've also got some young guys that are running out of innings. I'm just taking it start-to-start and appearance-to-appearance. Whatever they tell me to do, that's what I'll do.

Cole: Being a guy that has been in Double-A before, have the Rangers said anything about possibly going to Triple-A before the season ends?

Parker: No, like I said, I just put my nose to the grindstone and kind of do tunnel vision with baseball. If somebody has something to tell me, they can come up and let me know. But I try to stay out of what is going to happen. It's too much extra stress to try and worry about what they think about you and where they are going to put you. I think it's best to go out there and bust your butt every day. Good stuff will happen if you can keep narrow focus on baseball and not let the outside distractions bother you.

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