Entering this week, lefty reliever Zach Morris had allowed just two earned runs over 31 games dating back to April 27th this season for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws. Over that stretch, the six-foot-five 245-pounder tallied a 7-1 record with five saves and a 0.43 ERA.
Drafted out of Maryland by the Phillies in the 24th round last year, the 23-year-old has posted an overall record of 12-3 with a 2.33 ERA and seven saves in 54 games thus far as a pro.
This week, I sat down with Zach, who spoke about his tremendous hot streak, his familiar name, his team’s chances at reaching the post-season and plenty more. Read ahead for that interview.
-You’ve been doing very well and have gotten some attention for your efforts out there. Talk about the great stretch of success you had here this season.
It’s been fun. Obviously, it’s not all me. We’ve had good defense and the guys, with the defense we have, it’s easy. You just know if you go out there and pound the zone, if they hit the ball, ground ball- routine plays get made. It’s not all– I make pitches when I need to, but at the same I have all the trust in the catchers and the pitch calling has been phenomenal and the defense as well. You see guys making diving plays and I mean it’s been awesome.
-Other guys have done well and moved upward. Some might be surprised you’re still at this level. Is there anything that coaches have shared or that you’ve been advised by other team personnel on what they want to see from you in order to take that step to the next level?
No, not for the most part. This year, I changed my delivery this year. I’ve done more what the Phillies want and, obviously, it’s paid off a lot.
I like the pitching philosophy here and I mean, it’s something different that I’ve never done until college. And then last when I went down to the (Gulf Coast League), after my first outing, (pitching coordinator) Carlos Arroyo was there and he was helping me and he told me what the Phillies really want and that’s doing the extension, staying connected to the rubber and I tried to incorporate it a little bit, but I struggled with it last summer and I worked on it in the off-season and coming in to spring training, everything just started clicking.
-That work in the off-season, who do you pair up with to get that work in and where do you put in that work?
Maryland- I go right to my college. I live about 30 minutes from it and we had a good junior class last year and we had seniors hang around the area, so in the off-season we all live together and we’ll lift three or four times a week and when guys need to throw, it’s just a text away. It’s cool when you’re living with all those guys ’cause they’re all in other organizations and we all need to get our work in.
-You talked about guys with other teams…is there anyone that you can mention specifically that you worked closely with?
Alex Robinson, he was a fourth round pick to the Twins last year. He’s been my throwing partner for three years. I’ve been throwing with him a lot. And then there were some positions guys, but then there’s Kevin Mooney, one of the best closers in Maryland history, he’s with the Nationals now. The three of us have been throwing, we throw a lot together.
-With your name, I see it a lot from people on Twitter, there are a lot of jokes and references to the Zach Morris character on the old TV show Saved By the Bell. Are those jokes old or are you still able to enjoy those cracks?
Yeah, I love it. I love that show. It’s probably (among my) top three or four shows of all time. And I was not named after him when I was born. But, just the older I got—when I was young I didn’t watch the show and probably like I guess high school came around and kids were like, “It’s the same name as Zach Morris from that show.” And then in college I would be warming up at different fields and you’d hear the theme song come on. But, I’ve learned to embrace it. It’s been fun.
-Is there a lot of excitement among the pitching staff regarding the standings and the race for a playoff berth?
Yeah, definitely. Obviously, the first half you saw at the beginning, it was a rough starts for us, then we started picking it up at the end and then we’ve come out in the second half and just come out hot. Just winning makes it more fun and all the guys buying in with each other, it’s been awesome. So, we just want to keep things rolling here these next (four) weeks and we’ll see what happens.
-Are there any teammates you’ve been able to bond closely with and pick up a lot from?
All of us, honestly, the whole pitching staff- everyone’s close for the most part. I mean, there’s no problems. Our bullpen is phenomenal. Every guy there I’d do anything for. Some of the guys I just met this year and at the same time I’d do anything for. When we’re out on the road we do everything together. At first it wasn’t kind of like in college where you’ve got everybody playing for each other, but lately, in the second half, we have everyone buying in. It’s kind of like a family, in a way. At the same time it’s pro ball, but we all want each other to succeed and I guess we’re kind of feeding off each other. Seeing everyone have success has been awesome.
-Your transition out of the college ranks and into the pros, was that easier than you expected or pretty much just as you expected it would be?
A little bit of both. I mean, it was– ’cause in college you’re playing for the school and not everybody’s going to go onto the next level, so you’re playing with, you’ve got guys that are good enough to play at the pro level and there are others that are going to be good college players, so they know that it kind of ends, so the seniors, you want to go all out for them and you just want to win for them and it means a lot to the school. And then coming to pro ball, starting in the GCL, it’s been a good transition, but it’s a lot different than college I’ll say.
-Outside of the park, whether you’re at home or on long bus trips, what are you doing to pass time or have fun?
During the off-season, I fish about every single day. I mean that’s what I do, fishing and play baseball. And then on the road, you gotta try to watch Netflix. Hopefully, you don’t overuse your data, because road trips without data aren’t a lot of fun. But, I don’t know, I’ve probably gone through about three or four different shows this year.
-What’s the hot one? Which is the show you’d tell others not to miss?
Game of Thrones. I was so against it until the other guys in the organization were like, “Dude you have to watch it! How do you not watch it?” Eventually one day I just caved and I watched all six seasons in about a four weeks maybe. So, definitely Game of Thrones.
-If you were to get a chance to talk to young players that wanted to play baseball beyond high school, whether that’s college or professionally, what feedback or advice would you share with them?
Just make sure you’re having fun with it. That’s the most important thing. You don’t want to do something with your life that you’re not having fun with. Baseball has its ups and downs. There’s going to be days where you think, “I really hate this sport.” But at the end of the day, that’s just baseball. It’s the only sport where you can fail seven out of ten times and still be a Hall-of-Famer, like they say. But, hust make sure you’re having fun with it.