Phillips adds weapon to combat lefties

ROUND ROCK, Texas – Left-hander Zach Phillips currently has a 2.49 ERA in over 43 innings since his promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City, but he realizes there is still room for improvement. Lone Star Dugout spoke with Phillips about his season and a new pitch that he's throwing.

Left-hander Zach Phillips broke out as a relief prospect last season by posting a 1.39 earned-run average in 77.2 innings between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco. The impressive performance landed him a spot on the Rangers' 40-man roster, as the club wanted to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

Beginning his 2010 season with Frisco, Phillips certainly picked up right where he left off. The prospect started the campaign with a string of 10 consecutive scoreless outings, spanning 13 innings. During that time, he gave up four hits, walked two, and struck out 17.

The fast start earned the southpaw a promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he started with a string of six consecutive scoreless outings, covering 11 frames.

Phillips has experienced a couple ups-and-downs since he joined the RedHawks in mid-May. But on the whole, he has been strong.

The 23-year-old has posted a 2.49 ERA in 29 appearances with the Triple-A club. He has pitched 43.1 innings, giving up 41 hits, walking 23, and striking out 37.

Overall, he is happy with the production but realizes there is room for improvement.

"The season has been going good," Phillips said. "I'm learning the strike zone here more. I'm learning that the hitters are more experienced and they don't really swing at stuff like they did in Double-A. I'm just learning stuff like that––learning how to pitch."

The Rangers drafted Phillips in 2004 and signed him in 2005 as a junior college draft-and-follow. Since signing, Phillips has spent considerable time in rookie ball, Low-A, High-A, Double-A, and now Triple-A. He believes the jump between Double-A and Triple-A has been the toughest because of the experience of the hitters.

"This has definitely been the most difficult one by far," he said. "It's just more experienced hitters. You actually have to learn how to pitch here. I'm developing the other pitch to get extra guys out––especially lefties. I need to do that more and more as I go up."

That ‘other pitch' Phillips is developing is a slider. He initially began toying with the pitch last season.

"I worked on it a little bit last year," Phillips said. "I was just throwing it in sides here and there, but I never put it into a game.

"One day me and (Oklahoma City pitching coach) Terry Clark talked about it and I started throwing it. A few days later, I threw a bullpen and then took it into a game that same day. It felt a lot better than I thought it would for my first time using it. I have a lot of confidence with it."

The Sacramento native had worked with a three-pitch arsenal through his professional career. He is armed with an 88-91 mph two-seam fastball, a sharp curveball, and an above-average changeup.

Phillips has generally used his fastball-curveball combination to combat left-handed hitters while going to the fastball-change against righties. He has been successful against all hitters because of his two above-average secondary pitches.

And now Phillips has a third weapon for lefties.

"If I really think about it, I need to get lefties out whenever I face them, no matter what," he said. "The slider has come a lot further than I would have thought already. That's just another pitch to get lefties out. So I have three pitches for them rather than just fastball-curveball. And the occasional changeup."

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound hurler says he began throwing the slider in games about a month ago. Coincidence or not, Phillips has been outstanding over the last month.

Over his last nine appearances––from July 19 to the present––Phillips has worked 12.2 scoreless innings, giving up nine hits, walking three, and striking out 11.

Though he has done a better job of throwing strikes lately, Phillips still wants to work on cutting down his overall walk total.

"I need to keep the ball down," he said. "I need to attack more and more. I don't want any walks. I know how to throw strikes, I know my stuff is good, and I know the defense behind me is the best I've ever had. I need to use that to my full advantage."

For more information on Phillips and the OKC RedHawks, check out this thread on our subscriber-only message board.

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