Drillers pitcher Zach Simons ready for the playoffs
BY BARRY LEWIS World Sports Writer
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
9/05/12 at 3:58 AM
Related Story: Drillers update
If pitching and defense are keys to postseason success, the Tulsa Drillers are in good shape going into the Texas League playoffs that start with the best-of-five North Division finals series opener against the Springfield Cardinals at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at ONEOK Field.
Tulsa was the TL's best fielding team and also had a league-leading 3.20 ERA - well ahead of runner-up Arkansas at 3.81 and Springfield at 3.83.
Before Coty Woods' return Tuesday from Triple-A, the lowest ERA on the Drillers' active roster among those with more than 10 innings pitched belonged to right-handed reliever Zach Simons.
Simons is 5-2 with a 1.93 ERA in 33 appearances. He has allowed only 32 hits in 46 2/3 innings.
Simons began the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs and struggled with a 10.32 ERA in nine games before joining Tulsa, where he has got his career back on track with the help of pitching coach Dave Schuler.
"Sometimes you just click with a pitcher, and we hit it off right away," Schuler said.
And Simons also felt the immediate connection.
"One hundred percent - I'm kind of a wild man and Dave's kind of a wild guy." Simons said. "He hit some things on the head that really clicked with me. When I first got here, he really simplified things for me and I just feel like we're on the same wavelength. It's shown in my performance, and I give him a lot of credit."
Simons has a 1.47 ERA in his last 27 appearances for Tulsa.
"What has made a difference for him is we added a cut fastball," Schuler said.
That's a pitch that Schuler says legendary coach Johnny Sain taught him in 1985 when they were with the Atlanta Braves. It's the same pitch that Sain used to lift Jim "Mudcat" Grant from mediocrity to becoming a 21-game winner and American League MVP candidate for the Minnesota Twins in 1965. And it is similar to the cutter that Schuler helped Mariano Rivera develop when they were in the New York Yankees' farm system in the 1990s.
"I started throwing it in counts when I was ahead," Simons said about the fastball with lateral movement that cuts in on lefties. "I would get ahead with my fastball and then come at them with my cutter, and it's been a very good devastating pitch, especially late in games. I wanted a pitch that would eliminate a big hit and a big inning, and it's been that."
Simons, 27, joined the Drillers about three or four years later than originally projected. He was traded by the parent Colorado Rockies to Detroit in '08 for veteran pitcher Jason Grilli. Simons ended last season in Florida's system before signing with Colorado as a free agent.
"If I had the opportunity I always wanted to do that," Simons said. "I've always loved the Rockies."
Simons, an Idaho native, will be in the postseason for the first time since he was selected by the Rockies in the second round of the 2005 draft. He signed instead of accepting an offer to play football for Boise State, where he would have been a wideout or defensive back.
The first-half champion Drillers (75-64) will try to set a team record with their 10th straight win when they face second-half champion Springfield (77-61) on Wednesday.
"We're a very streaky team," Simons said. "If we get hot, we're really hot. If we get cold, we're cold for a few games. You couldn't ask for a better time for us to start peaking, and I think that's going to lead to special things in the playoffs."
Drillers manager Duane Espy likes how his team is playing as it enters the postseason.
"Who knows what's going to happen?" Espy said. "But our guys have prepared themselves as well they can by playing winning baseball and it's pretty special what they've done."
MEMORABLE DRILLERS PLAYOFF WINS
In their 36-year history, the Tulsa Drillers have won three Texas League pennants and are making their 14th playoff appearance. Below are their five most memorable playoff victories.
1998 Championship Series, Game 7
1. Early explosion wins pennant
After letting a pennant-clinching victory slip away the previous night, the Drillers bounced back with seven runs in the first inning and rolled to a 13-5 victory at Wichita. The early outburst included two-run, two-out hits by Mike Zywica and third-string catcher Joey Goodwin to silence the Wichita crowd. It is the only Game 7 victory in Drillers history and was their first title since 1988. Former Tulsa resident Junior Spivey (above) went 4-for-5 to lead the Drillers' 17-hit attack, while Andrew Vessel went 2-for-3 with three RBIs. Starting pitcher Rod Pedraza won his third game of the playoffs as he contained a Wichita lineup that included Carlos Beltran.
"We put it all on the line tonight and played great," said Vessel, who caught the fly ball that ended the game. "It doesn't get any better than this."
1999 East finals, Game 2
2. A wild marathon in Shreveport
Juan Bautista's two-out, bases-loaded bunt single in the 12th inning snapped a tie and Jason Grabowski followed with a three-run homer to lift the Drillers past the Shreveport Captains 8-4 at Shreveport, La. Grabowski, in only his second game with Tulsa, went 5-for-5. The win tied the series, and the Drillers won the next two games in Tulsa to win the East. Matt Miller picked up the win as he pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the 11th to extend the game. He also escaped an inherited two-on, one-out jam in the ninth. Bautista's winning bunt surprised Drillers manager Bobby Jones. A Tulsa player had not done it in that situation all season.
"I almost had a heart attack," Jones said.
1982 Championship Series, Game 1
3. Ninth-inning comeback decks Diablos
Donnie Scott's RBI single capped a three-run rally in the ninth inning to lead Tulsa past the El Paso Diablos 3-2 at Sutton Stadium (later known as Drillers Stadium). The Drillers were shut out until the ninth when the Diablos brought in closer Bob Gibson (not the Cardinals hall-of-famer). Five straight Drillers reached base against Gibson. It was the Drillers' first home playoff game in five years. The Drillers won the next two games to sweep the series to capture their first pennant.
1988 Championship Series, Game 1
4. Brown shows potential greatness
A Drillers' home playoff-record crowd of 4,086 gathered for the team's first home playoff game since 1982. Kevin Brown pitched a three-hitter to lead Tulsa to a 1-0 victory over El Paso. Brown would go on to win 211 games in the majors. He outdueled Jim Hunter (not "Catfish") to spark the Drillers to their second pennant as they won the series, 4 games to 2. Tulsa's only run came in the third as George Threadgill doubled and scored on Scott Coolbaugh's two-out single.
2002 East finals, Game 3
5. Wilson goes the distance
Many Texas Rangers fans consider C.J. Wilson a postseason failure, but he came up big for Tulsa in the playoffs. The lefty tossed a three-hitter to give Tulsa a 2-1 victory at Wichita and complete a sweep of the three-game series. It was the only nine-inning complete game win by a Drillers pitcher that year. Tulsa scored its runs in the fifth on RBI hits by Drew Meyer and Brett Cadiente. Third baseman Mark Teixeira, who had a walkoff hit in Game 2, committed a fourth-inning error that led to Wichita's only run. The Drillers went on to lose in seven games to San Antonio in the Championship Series.
"No disrespect to any other pitchers I've had, but C.J. is the only guy I would've stayed with," said Drillers manager Tim Ireland, about Wilson pitching the ninth inning.
Original Print Headline: Drillers pitcher ready for the postseason
Barry Lewis 918-581-8393
MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World file