An arm injury made it a rough first full season in the Oakland Athletics organization for pitcher Zack Erwin, who was acquired prior to the 2016 season from the Chicago White Sox in the Brett Lawrie trade. But the left-hander is redeeming himself with the Beloit Snappers this summer, showing why he was a fourth-round pick out of Clemson in 2015.
The 23-year-old Erwin has been the shot in the arm Beloit needs to remain afloat in the second-half playoff race. He’s coming off perhaps his best outing of the year on August 18th, when he allowed just one earned run on four hits, striking out four and walking one in a season-high 6.2 innings.
Erwin will be called upon to be that stabilizing factor tonight in Beloit, as he tries to put an end to his team’s five-game losing streak and get the Snappers back in the playoff chase.
“I’m happy with how the season has gone so far, mostly from the fact I am healthy,” said Erwin, who has posted a 5-4 record, 2.28 ERA and 80:20 K:BB rate in 79 innings with Beloit.
“Last year I was hurt a little bit and not throwing well. I’m healthy now and my arm is strong. Now that I’m back to 100 percent, I feel like I was in college with sharpness and location. My velocity is back to normal and last year it had slowly gone down three or four miles-per-hour.”
One setback led to another last season for Erwin, who said he likely had a bruised shoulder that resulted in an altered throwing motion. Over time, he started experiencing other arm problems and eventually would have season-ending arthroscopic surgery in his left elbow.
As a result, Erwin’s final 2016 numbers suffered greatly. Between his stops at High-A Stockton and Beloit, he went 4-10 with a 6.32 ERA in 98.1 innings. He posted a 74:35 K:BB rate and opponents hit .324 against him. It was a far cry from the summer of his draft year when Erwin took the White Sox organization by storm by posting a 1.34 ERA across two levels in 40.1 innings.
“My first four or five starts were really good and then I started to struggle a little bit,” Erwin said. “I think the hitters kind of figured me out a little bit, but that’s what happens when you go to a new level. I learned how to changed my approach as the season went on. I learned a lot just on what type of hitters are (in the California League) and I’ll know what to expect when I hopefully get back there.
After being demoted from Stockton in mid-July, Erwin was eventually shut down for the season following a start for Beloit on August 17th. Two months later, he went under the knife. He spent the entire offseason in recovery mode and eventually ramped up his activity this spring.
“I didn’t throw for a while and did rehab every day,” Erwin said. “I stayed in Arizona over the offseason. I went to spring training and was cleared to throw. I was a little behind. By the time I built up to where I needed to be, it was a month or two into the season. Then they sent me out somewhere.
“I’m just happy that the surgery had fixed it and everything was normal. I was happy to be throwing and in games. I didn’t really care where I was. I knew that I was doing what I needed to do to get to 100 percent.”
Everything started clicking for Erwin during the month of July when he put together perhaps the best stretch of any pitcher in the A’s organization. He went 3-1 in five starts with a minuscule 0.69 ERA, posting a 32:4 K:BB rate in 26 innings.
Erwin said he is back throwing the same four-pitch arsenal, which includes four- and two-seam fastballs, a slider and curveball.
As his fastball velocity has ticked back up to between 88 and 92 miles-per-hour, he has made some subtle adjustments to his two off-speed offerings.
“I’ve always thrown a curveball and slider, but now I’ve focused on making the slider shorter and tighter, and the curveball more 12-to-6 when I throw it,” he said. “The curveball is bigger and the slider is shorter, so there’s a differentiation between the two.”
Erwin hopes to finish the season strong with the Snappers and finally get another crack at opposing California League lineups next spring as a member of Stockton’s rotation.
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