Promising T.J. Zeuch appears poised to be Panthers’ ace next season


By Joe Rokicki / For The Pitt News

Each time a pitcher takes the mound, he’s tasked with creating a masterpiece — hurlers must paint the corners and brush back players. The strike zone is an easel.

Pitt’s baseball team has an artist of its own in rising junior pitcher T.J. Zeuch. Accuracy, precision and velocity are each components of the future ace’s game, but to Panthers catcher Manny Pazos, Zeuch’s consistency sets him apart.

“T.J.’s the most consistent pitcher I’ve caught,” Pazos said. “He wants to establish that fastball early in the count and then go to his off-speed stuff. He wants to challenge hitters.”

Outside of his ability and performance, Zeuch attributes most of his development and success as a Division I pitcher to an aspect of equal importance — confidence.

“The biggest change [I’ve made] is being more confident in myself and developing the mindset to get the out no matter who they are and no matter what the name says on their jersey,” Zeuch said.

Zeuch has consistently proved himself to his teammates and coaches since his arrival, working on mechanics and mastering a lethal four-pitch repertoire complete with his favorite pitch — a 12/6 curveball.

“He’s one of those few guys who can get you with any one of his four pitches. When his slider’s on, it’s devastating,” pitching coach Jerry Oakes said.

Despite his talent, Zeuch was far from a complete pitcher upon his arrival in Oakland.

“T.J. came in and has been a project since day one,” Oakes said. “[He needs to] get more connected and get his hips to work the right way. His front leg would get locked up, but now he has a steady tempo working down the mound.”

Pazos said Zeuch’s physical traits are crucial to the pitcher’s success.

“He uses his size to his advantage.” Pazos said. “When he releases, he’s in the grass, so he gets some additional velocity from that, which helps.”

Standing at 6 feet 7 inches tall, most of Zeuch’s teammates look up to him — literally — and the notable accomplishments he’s achieved through his first two seasons with the Panthers. His most prestigious start came against a top-ranked Virginia squad in March. Zeuch threw eight scoreless innings and struck out eight batters against the Cavaliers,a team currently playing against Vanderbilt in a rematch of last year’s College World Series Championship.

“That felt great,” Zeuch said. “We got no-hit [by Virginia] the year before, and the biggest thing on my mind was going in there and beating them no matter what.”

That start alone earned Zeuch numerous accolades, such as ACC Pitcher of the Week (March 9) and College Sports Madness ACC Baseball Player of the Week (March 10). He finished the season 4-6 with a 3.87 ERA and recorded 90 strikeouts, which ranks fourth in program history for most strikeouts in a season. On the road against FSU, he became the first Pitt pitcher since 2012 to strike out 10 batters in a game. Despite his accolades this past season, Zeuch sees room for improvement.

“I could have had well over 100 [strikeouts]. I lost a lot of 0-2 counts because I left the ball up and didn’t bury the pitch,” he said.  “I love to work fast-paced, but a big thing for me this year was to step off the mound and take a second.”

However, strikeouts can become a source of concern, especially based on Oakes’ management of his starter’s pitch count in the late innings.

“With him being the ace, I’m very careful. Sometimes he wants to get strikeouts when he needs to force ground balls in order to get into that seventh and eighth inning,” Oakes said. “I want our guys to be strong. They won’t throw anything over 100 pitches for a few weeks.”

Zeuch is currently pitching limited innings for the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod League and will be shut down at the end of June. In two starts with the Anglers, he is 2-0 through 10.2 scoreless innings. He has eight strikeouts and has surrendered just 12 hits, only one of which went for extra bases. The Cape Cod League is comprised of high caliber collegiate players from all over the country.

“Everyone up here is good, the competition level is incredible and I’m gonna have to work hard to stay at that level of competition,” Zeuch said. “Strikeouts are a burden, but I’ve fallen into more three-ball counts than you want. I’m working on keeping the ball down in the zone.”

Thanks to constant improvement and an unrelenting work ethic, Zeuch is poised for his role as the Panthers’ ace and hopes to lead Pitt to an ACC Tournament berth next season.

“A big belief of mine is that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” Zeuch said. “I hate losing. I think making the conference tournament next year would be a big deal.”

Oakes said that Zeuch will likely be a big part of the team’s success, if it does achieve that goal.

“He’s the most competitive pitcher on the staff,” Oakes said. “It’s his job to lose, he’s earned it.”

Zeuch’s perspective is pure.

“Personally, all I can do is throw my best,” he said.

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