BOZICH | Zack Burdi, Louisville's resilient closer, two steps from the White Sox
How has former Louisville closer Zack Burdi bounced back from the disappointment of how the Cardinals' 2016 season ended. Ask the Chicago White Sox and minor-league hitters.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WDRB) -- Mariano Rivera saved 652 major-league games, but several Yankees’ fans still chirp about one that baseball’s greatest relief pitcher did not save during the 2001 World Series.
Dennis Eckersley was consistently unhittable for the Oakland A’s, until he was extremely hittable against Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series.
It happened to Zack Burdi in the final game he pitched for the University of Louisville.
A reserve from UC-Santa Barbara, a player that few of us can identify, lifted a Burdi change up over the right-field fence at Jim Patterson Stadium.
Grand slam. Game over. Season over. College career over.
“You can always tell a guy, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it.’ “ said John Furmaniak, Burdi’s professional agent.
“But he’s a competitor. I think he was crushed … any human that plays baseball at a high level would have been crushed. But I think he’s handled it tremendously.”
The Chicago White Sox agree: Burdi is the first player from the 2016 Baseball Free-Agent Draft to advance to Class AA ball, where he has delivered back-to-back scoreless performances for the Birmingham Barons.
What happened against UC-Santa Barbara happened. But it is what will happen after that home run that will define Zack Burdi – and what has happened over the last month has been more revealing than his biting breaking ball.
“It’s behind me, but it’s something I think about because I miss those guys,” Burdi said. “Of course, I wanted to win that series, wanted to make it to Omaha for the (teammate like Danny) Rosenbaums, the guys who aren’t going to get a chance to play again.
“It’s something I put behind me, but at the end of the day I’m going to remember, and I’ll have to learn from it. I’m still grateful (to try again). That’s baseball. That’s life. Sometimes it doesn’t go the way you want it to, but you have to keep your head up and go on. The beat goes on.”
For Burdi, it’s definitely gone on and on. He’s moved around the country quicker than his 100 mph fastball.
In less than a month after signing with the White Sox for a bonus of $2,128,500, Burdi has been promoted from the Arizona to Winston-Salem, N.C. to Birmingham, jumping from rookie ball (one game), high Class A (four games) to Class AA (three games).
Wilson Sporting Goods is paying him to use the Clayton Kershaw model glove. He has an apparel deal with adidas. Two trading-card companies have talked with Furmaniak about endorsement deals, too.
It gets better: Burdi grew up cheering for the White Sox 2005 World Series champions in suburban Chicago. Now he is one of their top prospects, a guy they expect to become a critical piece of their future pitching staffs.
“Absolutely,” said Barons’ manager Ryan Newman. “When you take a guy that has the caliber of arm that he does, we’ve done it before in the White Sox organization. If things click, he could be there. He could help us win up there in Chicago … We’ve seen the fastball. It’s electric.”
“I’ve met guys who’ve been in the system for four-plus years, and I’m still trying to figure out where my laundry is,” Burdi said. “It’s been nuts.”
One radar gun clocked his fastball at 104 mph during Burdi’s first appearance for the Barons last week. On Tuesday, he faced the meat of the Jacksonville Suns’ lineup, the second, third and fourth hitters, in the ninth inning at Regions Field.
He retired them in six pitches, including a 90 mph breaking pitch that broke a bat. Ground ball. Ground ball. Soft fly ball.
As Burdi sprinted to the mound from the bullpen in right-center field, Barons’ media relations director Michael Guzman left the press box to stand next to a team official to record official radar readings on Burdi’s pitches. If Burdi adjusts his cap, the White Sox want to know. Advise the public address guy at U.S. Cellular Field that Burdi’s warm-up song is “Summer of 69,” by Bryan Adams.
Tuesday’s performance was his second consecutive scoreless appearance, one that followed an unsettling debut at Chattanooga, Tenn., when Burdi faced five hitters, walking four while allowing an infield single.
Hey, his older brother, Nick, also a former U of L closer, did the same thing during his first season with the Twins.
“You guys have something in common now,” Furmaniak told him.
Barons’ pitching coach J.R. Perdew essentially had a one-word fix for Burdi: Chill.
“He told me, ‘You belong here," Burdi said. "You’re here for a reason. Just go out there and perform. It’s a game. Just keep doing what you do.’
“I guess I was trying to throw pitches that I didn’t have. At the end of the day it was a good learning experience because there’s going to be more times where I move up or move down.
“I have to learn how to handle those travel days and how to become accustomed to a new level.”
Odds are that Burdi will move up before he moves down. There has been discussion in the Chicago media that Burdi could finish this season in the major leagues.
The White Sox are without three injured right-handed relief pitchers for the remainder of this season. They’re looking for a guy who can retire hitters in the sixth and seventh innings.
The Sox are an organization that has fast-tracked pitchers they drafted in the first round – like Chris Sale (2010) and Carlos Rodon (2014). Carson Fulmer, the former Vanderbilt star (2015), is likely next. Then Burdi.
“They haven’t mentioned it to me, and I’m pretty grateful to them for doing that,” Burdi said.
“Five weeks ago, I was in college. They don’t want to put that unneeded pressure and that thought in the back of my head that if I don’t perform I that I’m letting all these people down or if I do perform I’m going to the bigs.
“What happens if they don’t send me up? Then there’s thoughts in my head that they were going to do one thing and now they’re doing another … There’s definitely a bunch of possibilities out there but right now we’re just focused on me progressing my game mentally and getting better.”
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