- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 16, 2007

When Zech Zinicola agrees to be interviewed, he knows one subject is certain to come up.

Zinicola, Washington’s sixth-round draft pick last June, lived in a mobile home for three years while he played at Arizona State.

“No [I haven’t done an interview without talking about it]. It comes up a lot. It was a cool thing and I had a great time. As long as people have a good time with it I don’t mind it at all.”

The 6-foot-1 right-handed pitcher began his career with the Sun Devils as a two-way player but focused on pitching in his junior season. Zinicola anchored the Arizona State bullpen with a 3.95 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 431/3 innings.

When the Nationals tabbed Zinicola, his college dwelling became well known and an integral part of his background story. He was labeled a “free-spirit,” which can be interpreted and spun in several directions.

Zinicola’s living situation was not like Rod Beck’s at Class AAA Iowa. Beck, a former major league pitcher, lived in a motor home he parked just beyond the right field wall at Sec Taylor Stadium in Des Moines.

“It wasn’t like a Winnebago or anything,” Zinicola said. “It was sturdy on the ground. I didn’t like, drive it to the field and park in the parking lot or anything like that. It was two miles from campus and I could ride my bike or walk. I don’t think I am that different, but people have their own opinions.”

His father is in the real estate business and his family lived in San Bernadino, Calif., which is about a four-hour drive from the Tempe, Ariz., campus.

“Instead of my parents getting a room every weekend for three days, we decided to buy a mobile home so there was some extra room to stay,” Zinicola said. “They could come down and bring the whole family and over three years it just kind of paid itself off.”

Zinicola didn’t take long to acclimate himself to professional baseball. He started with short-season Class A Vermont but earned promotions to Class A Potomac (skipping a level) and to Class AA Harrisburg.

By the time his season was complete, Zinicola had gone 4-1 with a 1.65 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 322/3 innings. He was named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year despite spending the first half of the season in college.

“I was surprised at how I moved [through the organization],” Zinicola said. “I was hoping to do well but I didn’t expect to come in and do that. I was kind of surprised how quick I moved, but I think I was up to the challenge. I think I was good enough to be here.”

Blessed with a prototypical arsenal for a reliever (low-to-mid 90s fastball and mid-80s power slider), Zinicola appeared to be on a Chad Cordero-esque fast track to the Washington bullpen. When Cordero’s name was floated in trade rumors this offseason, Zinicola’s name was mentioned as his long-term successor.

The start of the 2007 season has been a bit of a reality check for Zinicola. He was hit hard to start the season, finishing April with an 11.25 ERA in seven appearances for the Senators.

“Basically when you’re not throwing strikes you aren’t going to do so well,” Zinicola said. “I haven’t been locating very well — walking and giving free bases to a lot of batters and then when I make a mistake they are making me pay for it. It is still a work in progress.

“I’ve had my down times but this has been pretty rough. I am learning a lot about myself and what I need to do to get better and hopefully it will make me a better player in the end. I feel like I’ve pinpointed the problem and I am working on it. I think the numbers are going to look a lot better in the future than what they’ve been.”

For the season, his numbers still do not look very good (a 7.50 ERA with 19 walks against 18 strikeouts in 24 innings), but he has been better lately. He has allowed one run in 42/3 innings this month.

Given that he is basically one year removed from college, the 22-year old Zinicola’s struggles are far from abnormal. Should he continue to produce results like he has in recent weeks, Zinicola could still be in Washington’s bullpen next season.

“He’s a guy who throws his fastball 92, 93 mph and he is refining his command,” Harrisburg pitching coach Rick Tomlin said. “He throws his slider 84-85 which is plenty good enough. It’s very good. He is refining keeping that on the plate. One of his priorities is developing a split [finger fastball].

“He started out slowly but he’s made some adjustments mechanically. He’s performed very well the last month or so. He’s gotten back to doing the things he needs to do.”

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