PENSACOLA, Fla. - All his life Zack Weiss has talked and played baseball. In the Weiss family, baseball has always been the sport of choice.
As a 10-year-old, little Weiss even attended the 2002 World Series with his dad, Ernest, to root on the Weiss' favorite team - the Anaheim Angels. The Angels clinched the championship that year - its first in the club's history.
"When I grew up, baseball was a part of our family," Weiss recalled. "The game was always on at 7 p.m. No one in my family ever played above high school. But we played softball every Sunday morning with my dad and his brothers."
Weiss has come a long way from those days. Today, he's the top closer in the Southern League with 22 saves in 23 opportunities for the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos.
Not only that, he's tied with Shane Dyer for the franchise record with 22 saves that Dyer set last season. Weiss has three series left this year to surpass Dyer and claim the Pensacola save record as his own.
Just how dominating is Weiss since advancing from the High-A Daytona Tortugas in early May? Opponents are hitting .217 against him. He's struck out 59 batters in 45.2 innings for 11.8 strike outs per nine innings. Weiss has saved 10 of his last 11 appearances since July 31, throwing 13.1 innings, allowing four hits, walking four, giving up two runs, including one earned run and striking out 22. That includes striking out the side four times.
In fact, Weiss has converted 19 saves in 19 opportunities since giving up four runs on four hits and a walk to the Mississippi Braves in 0.2 innings May 20. He has the best WHIP of active pitchers on the Blue Wahoos roster at 1.09, which is even better than starter Tim Adleman's 1.17. Weiss is 1-3 with a 2.76 earned-run average this year.
Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly said Weiss worked a lot with pitching coach Jeff Fassero to regain his form after being called up. They mostly watched his video from Daytona where he converted all five save opportunities and allowed zero runs in 11.2 innings.
"If you look at the video, he changed things between his plane flight or car ride," Kelly said. "His fastball just explodes. He has really taken the bull by the horns this second half."
Striking out the side is a rush that Weiss craves. He's done it six times this year and struck out four in a row once over 1.2 innings.
"It's fun. It feels pretty good to finish and inning like that," Weiss said. "The crowd is cheering for you. It's a big adrenaline rush."
Weiss is no stranger to the relief role. He started his career at UCLA as a starter, however, Weiss then moved to the bullpen. He helped the Bruins win its first College World Series championship in 2013, beating Mississippi State, 8-0. He appeared in two College World Series games, tossing 1.1 innings and allowing only one hit. In all, Weiss pitched in five postseason games, allowing no runs in four innings pitched.
In 43 relief appearances with UCLA, the junior went 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA and recorded 27 strikeouts in 40 innings. He did not allow a run in his final 14 outings and was drafted in the sixth round by the Cincinnati Reds.
He didn't pick up a ball or glove after the 2012 college baseball season, when he lasted just 1.1 innings in his College World Series start against Florida State. Weiss faced just five batters, walking in two runs and the Seminoles eliminated the Bruins from the tournament.
"It was a brutal start in Omaha to end our season," said Weiss, a Louisville Slugger All-American his freshman year as a starter. "I had a little mental block. I was trying to do too much the whole season."
Many fans would like to see him get a shot in the Reds bullpen at the end of this season.
But Weiss said he's just happy to be in a Blue Wahoos uniform for now.
"I'm still in Double-A and I can control only what I can control," said the 6-foot-3, 23-year-old, who throws four pitches including a 95-to-97 mph fastball. "At least, it's nice to know they're thinking about you. (The Reds) have a lot of arms. Every team I've played with has been deep."
Weiss said he prepares in the bullpen to come out ready to attack opposing hitters for Pensacola in his role as the closer.
"You come in and find yourself in jams," Weiss said. "There's no time to settle in. You have to come out and throw your best stuff and be aggressive in the strike zone. It's a confidence thing. It's a comfort thing. It's hard to be successful, if you're not trusting in your own self."
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.