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Gettin' Ziggy With It (vol. 17)

Hey, everyone! It’s been an up-and-down week for the River Cats. After winning the last 3 games of a 4-game series with Albuquerque, we proceeded to lose the first 3 games against Round Rock. But we picked up a big, come-from-behind win yesterday to salvage a .500 homestand. Kevin Melillo was the hero Tuesday, with a 2-run walk-off homer in the 12th inning, giving us the 6-5 victory.

This week was also notable, in that Santiago "Willie" Casilla was promoted to the big leagues, the first player to do so since I’ve been in Sacramento. As a fellow bullpen mate, I’m happy for him, and so far, he’s making the most of his opportunity up there.

As far as my outings this week, I entered in the 6th inning of the final game vs. Albuquerque, with us hanging on to a 2-1 lead. After allowing a 1-out walk, I gave up a triple, scoring the runner on 1st. But I was able to strike out the next 2 hitters to get out of the inning without further damage. A leadoff infield single started the 7th inning, but the next hitter hit into a double play. I struck out the last batter, and then we proceeded to score 2 runs in the bottom of the 7th. The bullpen held our lead, and I was credited with the win in the 4-2 victory. In slang terms, we call this "vulching" a win. This happens when you give up a lead that another pitcher had, but then get the victory yourself. Even though I knew this had happened, as soon as the game was over and we were walking out on the field to shake hands, Danny Putnam was following me in the line, and started making a loud "CAW" noise. Knowing what he was getting at, without even looking at him, I started flapping my arms to let him know that I knew I’d vulched the win, leading to a good laugh.

Then 3 nights later, I was summoned to the game with 1 out in the 5th inning. Round Rock had runners on 1st and 3rd, and we were trailing 5-2. I made a good pitch on the first batter, shattering his bat. But he was able to fist the ball into shallow center, scoring one runner and sending the runner on 1st around to 3rd. I coaxed a groundball out of the next hitter, but it was too softly hit to get a double play, and the runner on 3rd scored. I struck out the last hitter that inning. I was able to pitch around leadoff singles the next 2 innings, striking out 4 more guys. I was sent out to start the 8th inning, somewhat fatigued after having already thrown 44 pitches. I quickly walked the leadoff hitter, and Tony D. (our manager) noticed my tiredness and quickly pulled me for a reliever. With 2 outs, the runner (having advanced to 3rd base) scored on a wild pitch, charging me with another earned run.

While throwing well and racking up several strikeouts, it’s frustrating to me to give up a run in both outings, and to allow the inherited runners to score, despite making quality pitches. But it’s part of the game, and I’m still getting used to the smaller margin for error for relief pitchers. I’m also trying to adjust to the longer outings for which I’ve been called upon. In Midland, I had only gone over 2 innings twice in my 14 outings there. Here, I’ve already done it 3 times in my first 4 outings.

Since the last GZWI...
River Cats record: 3-3
My stat line: 2 G, 0-1, 4.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 9 K, 2 BB

River Cats record: 34-25 (in 1st place -- 2.5 games ahead of Tucson)
All-level Cumulative: 5-1, 1 SV, 1.91 ERA, 33.0 IP, 10 R, 7 ER, 29 H, 30 K, 7 BB

AAA stats: 1-1, 3.60 ERA, 10.0 IP, 4 R, 4 ER, 10 H, 13 K, 3 BB
AA stats: 4-0, 1 SV, 1.17 ERA, 23.0 IP, 6 R, 3 ER, 19 H, 17 K, 4 BB


* Brad, [is] it weird playing with Kaz Tadano with his history? Also, was it upsetting that he got called up and you were not? Did you have any inkling of hope that you might be called up instead of Ron Flores, as I saw you and Kaz Tadano being mentioned as possibilities from Double A? -- closetasfan

No, not at all. Kaz is a good teammate. Very respectful and very polite.

I wasn’t bothered at the time when Kaz got called up to Sacramento from AA (a week or two prior to my call-up). He’s a starter, I’m a reliever, so he fit the River Cats’ needs much more than I did at the time. Plus, he’d been throwing very well, and he has much more experience than me at higher levels.

And I never even considered a big league call-up a possibility straight from AA. I’m doing something very new to me, and I need the experience in AAA before I’m ready. Plus, Flores had been lights-out in AAA and had a lot of experience in Oakland from the last two years. I’m happy for him – he deserves this shot.

I finally have a question of my own. In both the majors and the minors, there often come times when the player is going to get some bad news, such as a demotion. I'm wondering: how is it usually handled? Is the player called into the manager's office? I'm wondering how this is handled in a way that does not damage a player's confidence, yet doesn't encourage unrealistic expectations either. -- OaklandSi

I can only speak from experience on this one. I don’t know what other guys have dealt with, but I’ve experienced bad news twice in baseball:

• When the Phillies released me, it was the 4th week of spring training in 2004. I showed up at the complex early on a Monday morning and was immediately summoned to the farm director’s office. Inside was our pitching coordinator, Gorman Heimueller, and our farm director, Mike Arbuckle. I took a seat, and Gorman told Mr. Arbuckle who I was (yes, it was tough to deal with the fact that he needed an introduction to know who I was). Then Mr. Arbuckle proceeded to tell me that I was too old (24) for them to send back to Short-Season A ball in Batavia (NY), but I wasn’t good enough to pitch in Low-A Lakewood (NJ). They released me and gave me info on a flight home later that morning. They were very direct and to-the-point, even though I felt like I’d never been given a fair chance with them. My numbers while pitching with them were good, even though there wasn’t a large sample size to go on. And almost all of my outings in spring training that year were on the road, which meant the minor league personnel weren’t present for those games. The Phillies also had brought in nearly 90 pitchers that spring, and probably only about 60 were given jobs out of camp.

• When the A’s demoted me from Sacramento to Midland last August, it happened on an off-day. Jay Witasick came off the DL, which sent Shane Komine down to Sacramento from Oakland. I was called by our manager and told I was going to be heading to Midland the next day to make room on the AAA roster for Shane. Shortly after, I was called by our trainer and given flight information for my trip to Texas. Again, very direct.

In the times when I’ve been on teams where other guys have been demoted, it seems like they were rarely told when other players were around. It’s done in a very professional way so as not to cause embarrassment and to allow the player time to deal with the frustration that comes with a demotion.

*Something in your first GZWI gave me the impression that you are a deeply religious man. Does your faith play a role in your development as a player and your attitude on the field? -- atomopawn

I do feel like my faith plays a major role in my life. I’m not sure it affects my physical development as a player, but it definitely affects my attitude toward baseball and my actions on the field. I do realize that there is life beyond baseball, even though I love the game immensely, and I put a lot of effort into it. As a person, I know I’m far from perfect, even though I’m trying my best to live a good life, and my faith is the #1 most important thing in my life.

*Will Carrol at Baseball Prospectus has gone on at great lengths about the need for pitchers to wear protection on the mound to protect themselves from hard hit comebackers. What are your thoughts on the topic? Have you had any close calls? Why do you think it hasn't happened yet? -- devo

I’ve had many close calls, and been hit several times. The worst was definitely the one off the right side of my head that sent me to the hospital for nearly a week. I'll copy and paste part of an article written about me by Kevin Goldstein from Baseball Prospectus:

Ziegler would go 9-2 in 16 games for Modesto as the team won the California League title, but the year ended on a scary note as Ziegler's last playoff start lasted less than a minute when San Jose's Fred Lewis lined the second pitch of the game right up the middle, nailing Ziegler just above the right temple and delivering a 1 ½ inch skull fracture that would lead to five days in an intensive care unit. Ziegler's recollection is a simple one: "It wasn't a good pitch." Doctors would not clear him to pitch again until the following January.

"Until the fracture was totally healed, I was at risk for seizures and hemorrhaging," he recalled. "I was on anti-seizure medication and they said any increase in my heart rate--like pitching--becomes high risk."

As far as wearing protection, I don’t think it’s really feasible for a pitcher to wear it. When I was recovering from my injury, the A’s trainers tried to think up a protective device I could wear, but nothing was possible that would still be practical. As violently as a pitcher’s body is twisted and thrown toward the plate, any extra equipment would surely get in the way. And I’m not sure it happens often enough for anything drastic to be done about it. It’s just a risk that we take every time we walk on the field, and I hope no pitcher ever has to go through what I went through (or worse).

* Question: This week you pitched a lot more innings relative to what you had thrown in previous weeks. Is this due to the injuries/pitching situation you mention above or is it a sign of the progress you've made with the new delivery? (or both?) -- JLeverenz

Even though this is an older question, I think it could be appropriate for this week, as well. I’d like to think it’s more of a combination of the progress I’ve made and the success I’ve had so far. At the same time, we have been somewhat depleted by injuries and big league call-ups so that several guys are being stretched a little beyond what they’ve been used to. But that’s just part of the game – doing what is asked of you, no matter what the situation is with the game on the field or how many guys are available in the bullpen on any given night.

*You mention attending a little league game in the story above. I have an eight-year-old who currently plays little league and loves it...and I love that he loves it, volunteer coaching and all.

Couple questions:
Any tips? Anything you did as a youngster that helped you out? Did your interest in baseball ever wane while growing up? If so, how did you get it back? -- easyraider

Keep your eye on the ball! Whether hitting or fielding, that’s always a good idea. And practice, practice, practice!

My interest in baseball never waned, because I love the game so much. The one bit of advice I can give: if you know a kid who doesn’t love the game and doesn’t really enjoy playing it, don’t force him/her to play. Try to find something else he/she likes to do, because being happy is most important, especially while growing up.

* Who is the best table tennis player on the [Midland] team, and can i get an autographed ping-pong ball from that player? -- Satchmo22

Bring one to a game, and I’ll sign it for you. :-)

I hope everyone has a great week and weekend! After a much-needed, relaxing day off yesterday, we’re start a 7-game road trip in Tucson tonight. After 4 games here, we head to Fresno for 3 more...then back home for an 8-game homestand. If you come out to visit Raley Field in Sacramento (or anywhere on the road that we play), make sure you come say ‘hi’ in the bullpen or when I’m signing autographs down the 3rd base line before the game. And make sure and tell me your screen name so I can put a face with the name! See ya at the ballpark!