The chance to throw a complete game is a "point of pride" for Noah Zavolas, but before Sunday, he had yet notch one as a professional. Standing on the hill in the ninth inning this time out, he didn't miss the opportunity to finish what he started.
The right-handed Milwaukee prospect fanned a career-best 11 while allowing just two hits as Class A Advanced Carolina topped Potomac, 3-0, at Northwest Federal Field. It marked the first scoreless game for Zavolas since last Aug. 23, when he pitched in relief for Class A Short Season Everett.
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Early in the start, Zavolas could tell his stuff was working, particularly a curveball that got plenty of swings-and-misses.
"I got started quick in the first and particularly the second. That's when I kind of -- not settled in -- but realized I had my plus-curveball today and was able to spot the fastball and play off the changeup as well," he said. "Really. it was that second inning was the turning point that I had all my stuff today."
Nathan Rodriguez got the start behind the plate in his season debut. But Zavolas said he and the backstop worked together in spring, so there was plenty of familiarity. In Sunday's outing, the two devised a nearly unhittable gameplan.
"I think it was just a comfort level. [Rodriguez] is actually the first guy I threw to in a game with the Brewers in Spring Training," Zavolas said. "He and I have worked together a lot. And me knowing him and him knowing me I think made the whole difference. It was him knowing my pitch selection and kind of anticipating it. It was really seamless."
Pitching out of the bullpen for all 19 appearances last season, Zavolas was sent from the Mariners to the Brewers this offseason along with Ben Gamel. Since then, he has transitioned back to a starting role and has provided consistency for Carolina. Through his first 13 starts, the 23-year-old has gone 3-3 with a 3.60 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP with 53 strikeouts in 75 innings. His solid numbers earned him a Carolina League All-Star nod.
Working with Mudcats pitching coach Cameron Castro, Zavolas has learned more about his repertoire from looking at some of the data.For example, the hurler has used his slider less frequently in favor of his curveball.
"It's really a measuring stick, it keeps you honest," he said. "For me, I learned that my curveball was better than I thought it was based on the break and movement profile. ... So I can use that to inform my pitch selection and kind of move forward knowing exactly what this pitch does and it's not a feel thing."
Zavolas came into the start on the heels of three outings in which he had allowed eight earned runs over 14 innings. Though his ERA rose to a season-high 3.60 in his last start, the Harvard product rebounded with 78 strikes over 101 pitches during the longest outing of his career.
The right-hander set down the first nine batters he faced before Nick Banks lined a single to center field for Potomac's first hit. Banks reached second on Cole Freeman's sacrifice bunt and then third on Aldrem Corredor's groundout, but Alex Dunlap struck out swinging to end the frame.
The P-Nats had another opportunity to put a dent in the run column in the fifth when KJ Harrison ripped a one-out double to left. But Bryan Mejia bounced out to second and Anderson Franco lined out.
Even with runners in scoring position, there was no change in approach or mentality on the mound.
"Changing my thought process or my attack process with a runner on is not the best way to go about it," Zavolas said. "It's just continuing to pound the strike zone. The way things compound is you give up a hit or hit a guy or walk a guy. I was able to get quick outs with runners on. It was a big plus to keep the ball on the ground."
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It was smooth sailing from there for the 2018 18th-round pick, who set down the final 14 batters of the game to close out his first career shutout. In the ninth, he whiffed the first two hitters before inducing a game-ending groundout from Freeman.
Zavolas has five outings in which he's completed at least seven innings this year, including an eight-inning, one-run gem May 10 against Myrtle Beach. With nine zeros Sunday, the Massachusetts native lowered his ERA to 3.21.
"Any time you can earn the ability or privilege to go out for the ninth, it's special," Zavolas said. "That just says a lot about the previous innings' efficiency and just how the game's going. For me, it was great because I've had a lot of deep outings before."
Ryan Aguilar went 3-for-3 with a homer, two doubles and two RBIs while Eddie Silva also notched a run-scoring double in support of Zavolas.