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Nationals' minor league feature
BY RICH CAMPBELL
Zech Zinicola doesn't remember the exact day in May last year, but he won't soon forget the disappointment and frustration.
The Washington Nationals' 2006 minor league pitcher of the year was struggling on the mound for the first time in his career. All the hype and expectations that resulted from his meteoric rise in 2006 only exacerbated the situation.
Desperate to pinpoint the exact cause of his problems, he wanted to throw a bullpen session every day--anything to be proactive.
Eventually, he reached the breaking point.
"I banged my head on the wall one night," Zinicola said. "I came out the next day and just tried to turn it around."
And so Zinicola's return to form began, and it shifted into overdrive at the start of this season. After beginning the year at Single-A Potomac--which he termed a "wake-up call"--Zinicola was promoted yesterday to Triple-A Columbus. He's back on the fast track to the major leagues, and this time he's the benefactor of lessons only failure can provide.
"I needed to go through some struggles," Zinicola said by phone this week. "If it's all on cruise control, you don't get better. You don't learn from your mistakes. I learned from my mistakes, and I think I'm going to end up better in the long run."
Zinicola's story begins in the summer of 2006, when the Nationals drafted him in the sixth round out of Arizona State. He started his professional career at short-season-A Vermont, but his stay was brief. He was promoted to Single-A Potomac after eight scoreless appearances. After nine quality outings there, it was on to Double-A Harrisburg.
Over three levels that first season, Zinicola racked up a 4-1 record, a 1.65 ERA, 12 saves and 31 strikeouts in
"I think we might have rushed him a tad bit the first year but, again, he was on fire," said Spin Williams, the Nationals' minor league pitching coordinator. "He rolled through those levels."