Former Panther Zeuch weathers star-studded Braves lineup in MLB debut


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T.J. Zeuch became the highest draft pick in Pitt baseball history when he was drafted 21st overall by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2016.

By Stephen Thompson, Assistant Sports Editor

The Toronto Blue Jays currently sit in baseball’s basement. They own a record of 55-84, fifth-worst in all of baseball, and over the summer decided to dip into a loaded farm system. Blue Jays fans had already witnessed the debuts of future stars like Vladamir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, but Tuesday night featured the latest addition to Toronto’s youth movement — former Pitt Panther TJ Zeuch.

Zeuch became the highest draft pick in Pitt baseball history when he was drafted 21st overall by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2016. Since then he has spent his time working up Toronto’s minor league system, trying to earn a spot in the majors.

Just more than two weeks ago, Zeuch made national headlines when he tossed a no-hitter for Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons. For the first time in his young career, Zeuch, the Blue Jay’s No. 17 ranked prospect, took the mound on Tuesday.

Fresh off that historic performance, the former Panther and 2016 first-round draft pick made his Major League debut on Tuesday night against the Atlanta Braves.

Toronto elected to use an opener on Tuesday night, meaning that 29-year-old Wilmer Font started on the mound. After one inning, he was pulled in favor of Zeuch, who took over in the bottom of the second inning.

After Font surrendered two runs in the opening frame, Zeuch took the mound for the first time — already in a hole. But once he toed the rubber, Zeuch’s face didn’t show any signs of panic.

In his first inning, Zeuch got two outs from the bottom three hitters in the Braves’ lineup before all-star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. stepped up to the plate. Acuna made good contact, but hit the ball right at the shortstop, Bichette.

Former and current all-stars like Ozzie Albes and Freddie Freeman follow Acuna in the lineup, in addition to former American MVP Josh Donaldson. Zeuch was able to hold Atlanta’s stars in check through his first three innings of work, but after surrendering walks to both Acuna and Freeman, Donaldson lined a double into left field, scoring two runs.

Zeuch then retired the right fielder Matt Joyce with a strikeout to end the inning. That would also end Zeuch’s night, as pinch hitter Billy McKinney batted for Zeuch, who was scheduled to lead off the top of the sixth.

Zeuch exited his major league debut with a final line of two runs allowed on three hits and two walks with four strikeouts over four innings pitched. The 6-foot-7 right-hander did not throw hard — topping out on his fastball at about 93 mph — but showcased good command of his off-speed pitches.

Despite solid execution, Zeuch proved that he still has a long way to go before becoming an effective major league pitcher. When facing experienced hitters, Zeuch was unable to mix his pitches enough to mask his unspectacular velocity.

He worked through three scoreless innings, but Zeuch gave up lots of hard contact and it ultimately came around to bite him in his fourth inning, where he surrendered two of the seven runs his team allowed in a 7-2 loss.

With that said, Zeuch’s potential makes him an enticing piece for Toronto to experiment with throughout the remainder of the season. Toronto is in the middle of a massive rebuild and Zeuch’s performance through the final month of the season will play a large part in determining where he plays next spring.

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