Zach Duke: LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates, 2009 National League All-Star
Zach Duke is a 26-year-old Left-Handed Starting Pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was drafted in the 20th Round of the 2001 draft out of Midway High School in Waco, Texas and turned down a scholarship offer from Baylor to sign with the Pirates. He has been a fixture in the Pirates rotation since striking out nine Milwaukee Brewers in his major league debut on July 2, 2005. His career highlights include an 8-2 rookie season with a 1.81 ERA, a 22 inning scoreless streak during that 2005 rookie season, fifth place in the 2005 Rookie of the Year balloting, two 200 IP seasons, and a place on the 2009 National League All-Star team. Zach’s answers in this interview demonstrate the intelligence, adaptability and tenacity that have made him a successful major league pitcher.
Geoff Miller: You’ve done such a great job in overcoming adversity in your major league career. How do you deal with failure at the big league level?
Zach Duke: I think the thing you have to remember is that every player that has played this game has failed at one point or another. It doesn’t mean you are a bad player, it just means you have more work to do. You have to be as even-keeled as possible and not put too much weight on one bad outing or one bad season. You have to look back and think about the things that made the results turn out the way they did and try to rethink your plan or work routine and remember the things that made you successful in the first place.
GM: Can you describe how you use your thought process to your advantage without thinking too much when you’re out on the mound?
ZD: The trick there, I have come to realize, is that you think outside your own personal actions, and focus on the game or at bat. For example, if you find yourself thinking about mechanics or release points, get outside your head and focus on a batter’s feet or hand position with the bat, and remember what you were taught to look for to combat a certain batter’s tendencies.
GM: How important is your confidence level to your success?
ZD: As simply as I can put it, if you don’t believe in your own abilities and talent, you are going to be thinking about what you are doing the entire game. You have to trust the work you have put in and have confidence that from all the repetitions you have done executing each pitch, your body will remember how to get the ball to a certain spot. You must know that even if a hitter beats you in one at bat, you will get him the next time by using what he just showed you.
GM: How would you describe your leadership style and how do you serve as a leader to your current teammates, most of whom have less than one year of major league service time?
ZD: I am not a “get in your face” type leader. I am still a young player, I have just gone through a lot in my young career and try to help the newer guys out by relaying my experiences and how I dealt with them, whether I did it right or wrong. I truly want every teammate, or player I have known for that matter, to be as good as they can be regardless of how it affects my career. Because to me, those memories will last in my memory longer than anything I accomplish on the field. The greatest way I can think of being a leader is trying to help everyone I come in contact with as much as I can. If I can help a younger player avoid some of the missteps I made, I know it will only help that player and my team.
GM: What advice would you give yourself if you could go back and talk to yourself as a high school pitcher?
ZD: I would tell any high school pitcher to always have the mind frame of this: “When I look back at my career, no matter what level I get to, I want to be able to look in the mirror and honestly say to myself that I did everything I possibly could to become as good as I could be.” And every day you are either getting better or getting worse. You are never in neutral.
GM: What is the most important mental game lesson you have learned in your career?
ZD: The most important mental game lesson I have learned is that the most important pitch and the only one that matters is the one you are about to throw. If a hitter gets a hit, have a short memory because you can’t change the past, but if your next pitch is a good one, the bad one won’t be remembered.
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