As soon as Kevin Ziomek toed the rubber this summer, the countdown began.
Coming off a self-described “up-and-down” sophomore season, the Vanderbilt left-hander had little time to atone this summer during his second stint on the Cape Cod Baseball League.
He had only five pre-determined starts to work with, meaning there wasn’t any time to mess around. And Ziomek didn’t. The left-hander was nearly untouchable, giving up just four earned runs in five starts for a 1.27 ERA – the third-lowest on the Cape. He finished with a 3-0 record for the Cotuit (Mass.) Kettleers and struck out 36 while walking only six in 28 1/3 innings.
“Coming into the summer my main goal was to go in there and get some confidence back,” Ziomek said last week from his home in Amherst, Mass. “Improve as a pitcher a little bit, work on my changeup and I felt that’s what I did. I didn’t really feel like I needed to prove anything else out there. My mind was where it needed to be so I’m pretty excited going into the fall.”
Ziomek arrived back home in Amherst, which is only three hours from Cotuit, two weeks ago. He was one of seven Commodores who played on the Cape. The prestigious collegiate wood-bat league concludes its regular season on Tuesday and the playoffs begin on Thursday.
Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin and pitching coach Derek Johnson prescribed a maximum of five summer starts for Ziomek. In 2011, he stayed with Cotuit the entire summer but that previous spring, his first at Vanderbilt, he threw only 45 innings.
This past season, he led the Commodores with 16 starts and 79 1/3 innings pitched. Thus, Corbin and Johnson wanted to play it safe and limit his pitching in the summer.
“My arm feels actually pretty good and it felt real good at the end of the year,” Ziomek said. “So it wasn’t like there was any kind of health issue. We just got to an innings count and thought that was the best way to end things – right there. I have a lot of trust in them.”
The sensational summer followed a sophomore slump of sorts for Ziomek.
As a freshman in 2011, he turned into a reliable midweek starter for the Commodores. He finished with a 1.60 ERA and 3-0 record, striking out 46 in 45 innings and earning Freshman All-American honors from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
He entered 2012 as Vanderbilt’s most experienced starter and got the nod to begin the season in the coveted Friday night spot. But he ran into trouble right out of the gate, giving up five runs in just 3 1/3 innings in the season opener against Stanford.
It was just the start as Ziomek suffered five straight losses during four weeks in March and April. The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder believed his woes stemmed from not having a third pitch, which in turn effected his confidence.
“If my slider wasn’t on that day, I’d be throwing fastballs,” said Ziomek, who finished with a 5-6 record and 5.22 ERA. “It is a little bit different than when you’re younger in high school ball where you can’t just throw a fastball and get somebody out. These hitters are so good in the SEC… they can hit a fastball. They’ll jump on you once in a while if you don’t have your best stuff.”
Ziomek had dabbled with a changeup in high school but said “it was never really something that worked for me.”
But with guidance from the coaching staffs at Vanderbilt and Cotuit, Ziomek continually tried out new grips until he felt comfortable throwing the off-speed pitch.
“The ability to throw that third pitch has really helped me out,” he said. “I’ve been able to develop a feel for that along with my other couple pitches. It gives me confidence going into each outing, which I didn’t really feel like I had this spring.”
Two months after Vanderbilt’s season came to a close in an NCAA Regional, Ziomek feels like a different pitcher.
Though it was brief, his time on the Cape restored confidence that will be essential when the Commodores begin reporting for fall practice in less than three weeks.
“It was definitely a good feeling to have,” Ziomek said. “I hadn’t been able to build a number of starts in a row like that where I had success. So it was great to turn things around and it will be really good momentum moving into next year… If you can succeed in the Cape, you know you’re going to be in the SEC next year and be in good shape.”
Here’s a look at how several other Commodores fared this summer:
Cape Cod Baseball League
New England Collegiate Baseball League