CLEARFIELD — Back home after spending nearly two months in the northwest, former Clearfield Area High School Bison and Clearfield American Legion Chiefs pitcher Chad Zurat stated he was pleased with the progress he made in his first season as a professional baseball player.
So was the Colorado Rockies organization, which has extended an invitation for him to report to its spring training camp in February.
When the snow is flying in the northeast, the 6-2, 225-pound right-hander will be on a flight to Scottsdale, Ariz.
Zurat credited the coaching staff of the Tri-City Dust Devils, the Rockies’ farm team in the Class A Short Season Northwest League, for what he labeled big improvements from mid-July through the end of August.
“I got off to a rough start, but they stuck with me,” he said. “They were just determined to keep helping me and get me to where they wanted me to be.”
Early on, Zurat would pitch one or two good innings and then run into trouble, with many of the runs he allowed scoring after two outs.
“I don’t know if it was a lack of focus or letting the ball up a bit, but at this level, and higher, they’re good hitters and they take advantage of mistakes,” he explained. “They’re going to make you pay.
“By the ninth and 10th appearances, I felt more confident and I was getting more guys out. Even if I would give up a hit, I wouldn’t let that guy come around and score. I was able to get that third out.
“I was a lot happier with those outings.”
Zurat was quick to cite the help of pitching coach Frank Gonzalez, specifically, for tweaking his delivery, making it quicker, and teaching him how to throw a changeup.
“I used to have a high leg kick, and now it’s a low, short one, which helps to control the running game a little bit,” Zurat said. “They didn’t want to change my motion. They liked how I would finish my pitches way out front. They just wanted make sure it was more directional, going towards home plate more.
“It wasn’t all the time, but there were some pitches when I had fallen off to the side and the pitches didn‘t go where I wanted them to go. Now, I‘m not coming around and falling off the side of the mound.”
During his scholastic and legion days and through his college career as a three-year closer and then a senior starter at Penn State Behrend, Zurat relied on a two-seam fastball, now clocked in the low 90s, with a curve as his lone off-speed pitch.
Developing a changeup almost is a prerequisite for pitchers in the Rockies chain, he said.
“It’s all about location and keeping hitters off balance and keeping them guessing, and a changeup is the one pitch they pretty much tell us we have to have,” Zurat said. “I tried in the past but never found anything that worked.
“Coach Gonzalez kept working with me on that.”
Zurat didn’t allow an earned run in his last two outings (four innings), lowering his ERA that soared to 11.81 after his first two appearances to a final 8.14.
In 21 innings, he registered 19 strikeouts, walked only five batters and hit three while surrendering 36 hits and 21 runs, 19 earned.
Zurat, the winner in his lone decision, was utilized exclusively in long relief by the Dust Devils.
“Since I was a starter in college, they thought mixing me in as a long reliever would be a good fit,” he said. “I don’t know what they plan for me next year.”
He will take some time off before resuming workouts in December in preparation for the next step in his pro career.