A big outing from Lake County’s Zack Draper in his season debut earned him his first career Pitcher of the Week award from the home of the Captains, the Midwest League.
After spending extended time in Goodyear, Arizona, at the start of the regular season to work on some mechanics and his breaking ball, Draper got the call to the Captains on Tuesday and was thrust into action on short notice last Wednesday for a road start at Cooley Law School Stadium against the Lansing Lugnuts.
The 23-year-old left-hander responded with six innings of one-hit baseball, facing the minimum during his time on the mound in a tough no-decision after the Lugnuts scored three runs in the final two innings off of the Captains’ bullpen to take a 3-2 victory.
Draper made his first career Midwest League start on May 30 and immediately got into a pitcher’s duel with Lansing starter Maximo Castillo. The Captains would strike first to give Draper a lead and tacked on another before his final inning of work, as he would leave in line for his first win of the season before the Lugnuts rallied back.
The southpaw started out strong, getting a fly out to start the bottom of the first before striking out former Indians prospect Samad Taylor and Chavez Young to end the frame. The Captains gave him a lead to work with after going down in order in the first, as Oscar Gonzalez kicked off the second with a single to center. Two more singles from Will Benson and Jonathan Laureano would drive home Gonzalez to give Lake County a 1-0 lead.
Lansing got its first runner on base in the bottom of the second, when Brock Lundquist walked with one out. A grounder off of the bat of Yeltsin Gudino doubled up the base runner and the game moved to the third.
Lake County stranded a pair in its third trip to the plate, but Draper was still dealing, striking out the first two Lugnuts to start the home half of the third before a grounder to short. Castillo struck out the side in the fourth and Draper matched the 1-2-3 inning with a fly ball and a pair of grounders.
Draper brought a no-hitter into the bottom of the fifth, but lost it on a one-out single from Lundquist. But with just his second base runners of the day to contend with, Draper got Gudino to replicate his previous work, grounding to short again to start a double play as the young Captains starter kept the Lugnuts off of the scoreboard once again.
Castillo was lifted after five for Donnie Sellers, who promptly gave up a home run to Nolan Jones. The fifth homer of the season for the Captains third baseman extended the Lake County lead to 2-0. Draper would breeze through his final frame, getting a pair of groundouts to open and close the inning around a strikeout to end his afternoon.
Lansing did damage against the Lake County bullpen, starting in the seventh. Jonathan Teaney took over on the mound and got the first two outs before the Lugnuts notched their second hit of the day, a double to center by Lansing’s Young. Brandon Grudzielanek reached on an error at short by Ernie Clement, allowing Young to score on the play to make it a 2-1 game on the unearned tally.
The Captains left a run in scoring position in the top of the eighth, which would prove all the more costly in the home half. Teaney returned to the mound, but gave up a leadoff single to Gudino. Ryan Noda put the Lugnuts on top for the first time on the day with his first homer of the year, as his two-run blast to right-center made it a 3-2 game.
Down to their final three outs, the Captains would have some base traffic, but would be unable to score. Laureano singled to short but was erased on a double play. Jesse Berardi walked with two down and Todd Isaacs moved him to second with a single, but Clement flied to center to end it.
Draper’s final line included six shutout innings of one-hit baseball with a walk and five strikeouts. He threw 43 of 68 pitches for strikes and kept the ball down, getting nine groundouts against two fly ball outs while facing the minimum.
Draper was a 30th round draft pick by the Indians in the 2016 draft out of the College of Idaho. He made 17 appearances in minor league action last season (with just one start), split between the Indians’ Arizona League affiliate (ten relief appearances), the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (five relief games and one start), and the Captains (one relief appearance). He ended the year with a 2-1 record with a 3.58 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP in 27 2/3 innings of work in his first season of professional ball.
In the days after his stellar 2018 debut, Draper was reassigned to the Scrappers.