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Harrisburg's Zinicola has eye on D.C.05/11/2007 8:00 AM ET
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
There are a few things to get straight right off the bat about Harrisburg Senators closer Zech Zinicola.
For one thing, no, it's not a typo. It's not Zach or Zachary. It's Zech, short for Zechry.
"It's a little different," he admitted. "I guess my parents are just creative."
Google the name "Zechry" and Zinicola is virtually the only mention (it is referenced as well in one biblical translation of Zechariah).
But Zinicola himself gets a few thousand mentions, and that's not surprising. The Washington Nationals' sixth-round pick in 2006 out of Arizona State, he dominated at three levels of the Minors that summer and by September had earned the Nationals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year award, despite having been pro for just two and a half months.
Zinicola started his career at Vermont in the Class A Short-Season New York-Penn League, where he tossed nine shutout innings before skipping past Class A Savannah to Class A Advanced Potomac. There he posted a 1.98 ERA and a 3-0 record along with three saves in 13 2/3 innings and moved up yet again, this time to Double-A Harrisburg. He collected five more saves, posting a 2.70 ERA over 10 games, to complete his debut with 12 saves, a 1.65 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings of work.
The irony is that while Zinicola may well be the only Zechry in existence, he's not even the only "Zech" in Harrisburg right now. He shares the nickname with Zech (short for Zechariah) Runkle, a sports standout at Harrisburg High School.
The other piece of information that floats around with Zinicola and is sometimes misinterpreted has to do with his living quarters while at ASU: a double-wide mobile home in Tempe.
Some have taken that tidbit and imagined him in a Winnebago, off in the woods or the beach -- or, in Arizona, the desert -- sort of like McDreamy on "Grey's Anatomy."
But that's a "motor home," not a pre-manufactured mobile home. The term comes from the fact that it can be transported by flatbed truck from one location to another, but it is not independently mobile per se.
"It's not a Winnebago, I didn't drive it to the field or park it in the parking lot like a lot of people made fun of me for," he explained.
The decision to live there was more of a Zinicola family brainstorm.
Zinicola is the eldest of six kids, the youngest being a brother, Zain, and the middle four all girls (and all of whose names, in case you were wondering, begin with the letter L).
His dad John, who works in real estate in San Bernardino, realized that it might be a good investment to buy a piece of property near the ASU campus in Tempe, where the entire family could stay when they came down for Zech's games, so he purchased the mobile home.
"Instead of the whole family coming and getting hotel rooms every weekend, he decided to buy a pre-manufactured home here," Zinicola sad. "I made it my home and had a few roommates at a time, but it also allowed my family to come stay with me for free for three years, and it was a good investment."
The family had a lot to cheer about during that time. Zinicola led the Sun Devils in saves his last two seasons, and over three seasons collected 18 saves, third in school history, while posting a 4.34 ERA. He also batted .276 with 41 RBIs in his first two seasons as part-time DH.
It wasn't until his final year at ASU, however, that he really was solidified in that bullpen stopper role.
"I was never really a strict closer," he said. "I was a pitcher and hitter, played first base, DH, starting, closing, middle relief -- a little bit of everything. But I found that I seemed to do my best work in the eighth or ninth inning."
He has embraced that role as a pro.
"Mentally, I think I thrive on the closing role," Zinicola said. "I like the pressure of having the game on the line. Every pitch matters, the crowd is intense. One pitch you can lose the game, one pitch you can win it."
Once Zinicola signed with the Nationals, the family's travel options became limited to hotels wherever he plays. So far, that's already been three cities in less than a year and Zinicola certainly hopes that Columbus, Ohio, where the club's Triple-A team plays, and eventually Washington, D.C., will join that list of family destinations.
But he probably didn't expect that he would be this close this quickly, and he definitely was shocked by his organization honors last fall.
"I had hopes of getting off to a good start in the Minors, but I didn't think it would be possible to win the award after two and a half months," he said. "Now I just want to go out there and prove how good a player I am."
The 2007 season has gotten off to a rough start for Zinicola, whose ERA stood at an even 9.00 after nine games. But after allowing eight earned runs in his first three outings, he'd tossed scoreless ball in five of his last six appearances.
Throwing a fastball in the low 90s, which touches 95 regularly, he offsets that with a changeup and is working on his slider as well. Consistency in the zone will be key for the right-hander.
He knows that for now, at least, the Nationals have a solid closer in Chad Cordero, their first-round pick from 2003. But even Cordero has had it rough to start 2007, with a 4.70 ERA, four saves and four blown saves, and a .338 average against him. Maybe it's something in the Nationals closer water. So in the meantime, Zinicola has set one goal for himself:
"To get to the big leagues as fast as possible," he said, "and hopefully make an impact once I get there."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.