Will Draft prospect extend no-hit streak?

May 31st, 2021
Courtesy Suzanne Mozzicato

Reel off four consecutive no-hitters, and people are going to wonder if anybody will ever notch a hit off you again. Frank Mozzicato gets it.

But he’s not looking for another no-no.

“You can’t think like that. That’s selfish, in a way,” he said. “My job is to throw strikes. You know eventually there’s going to be a hit. It happens. The no-hitters, it’s pretty cool, but, really, who cares?”

The left-handed UConn commit and senior at East Catholic High in Manchester, Conn., carries his no-hitter streak -- and 101 strikeouts and one earned run over 42 innings -- into state tournament play, which begins on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. ET. Mozzicato is expected to pitch in relief Wednesday, Eagles coach Martin Fiori said, and start if the team plays Saturday.

“I want to say I’m not surprised, but I am,” Fiori said. “The fact that he’s gotten even better in every outing -- how can you keep getting better when you’re already pretty good?”

A growing number of scouts (“Frankie’s traveling circus,” per Fiori) have turned up at each Mozzicato start, with an estimated 30-40 at recent outings. San Diego general manager A.J. Preller was reportedly in attendance for the second of the four no-nos, a 17-strikeout masterpiece against regional powerhouse Southington.

“I didn’t know he was at the game until after,” Mozzicato said. “Somebody texted me: ‘Yo, the Padres’ GM was there.’ That was sick. It’s been a cool experience. It’s the whole team’s first time playing in front of this many scouts. But I don’t pitch for the guys behind home plate -- I pitch for the guys standing behind me.”

The East Catholic team (20-0) is a tightknit bunch. Mozzicato counts catcher Hank Penders as his best friend. Penders is the son of UConn baseball coach Jim Penders (and grandson of former East Catholic coach Jim Penders Sr.), which has meant an adjustment to the boys’ social lives for NCAA rules.

“He can’t come into my house,” Penders said. “He’ll pick me up and we’ll go somewhere, but if he wanted a glass of water or to come use the bathroom, he can’t do that.”

After a cancelled 2020 season, Mozzicato entered the year absent from MLB.com’s Draft rankings but catapulted to No. 51 by mid-May. The southpaw, who’s a couple weeks shy of 18, already has a 60-grade curveball (which he’s been throwing with the same grip since he was 11 or 12), a fastball that’s ticked up to around 91-93 mph and a promising changeup.

“The problem [his freshman year] is that … his curveball … would bite a lot but land behind the plate. They’d call it a ball because he almost overmatched some of the J.V.-type umps,” Fiori said. “He had to make it a little bit loopy to make it a strike, and he would still throw it because he wanted to be successful.”

As he gained strength and velocity, Fiori said, the curve got sharper. From Penders’ view behind the dish, the jump this year has been crystal clear.

“He always threw really well, but he was never a big strikeout guy. He would get five, six a game. This year has been just totally different,” the catcher said. “Guys are swinging and missing, looking at pitches, curveballs just buckling guys. For a while, it was kind of tough [to catch his curve] because it’s so tight and so quick, but sometimes it’s easier to catch than his fastball because his arm angle is kind of like a whip, and it’s harder to see the fastball out of the hand.”

His fastball and changeup have improved thanks in large part to his work at Cressey Sports Performance beginning last fall, and Mozzicato began this season with the goal of matching brother Anthony’s senior ERA of two years ago: 0.00.

That went out the window in the younger Mozzicato’s first 2021 start, but he soon started his own unique streak.

“With his brother, we were talking about not giving up an earned run,” Fiori said, “and here we are taking about not giving up a hit. It’s crazy to even think about.”

So crazy to think about that Frank’s father, Anthony Mozzicato Sr., prefers to ignore the hoopla and, he said, “sit in my little corner and watch the game.

“It’s caused a lot of press and excitement, but [Frank] knows it really doesn’t matter. To him, all that matters is getting the next out. I know that sounds almost silly, but that’s how he’s maintained his focus. … Some of us at this point think, ‘OK, let’s just get it over with and get that out of the way. You can start another [no-hit streak] if you want.’”

Whether he gives up a hit in tournament play or not, it’s been a heck of a season for Mozzicato.

“He’s been good,” Fiori said. “You hate to say that, because tides can change any time. But when you’ve been around a while, you can tell when a kid has been a little bit different. And he’s a little bit different.”