From his Ohio yard to here: Zeuch makes 1st start in Cincy

August 17th, 2022

CINCINNATI -- It’s not unusual for a young ballplayer to stand in their backyard, glove in hand, pretending to run on to the field for the team they’ve grown up rooting for.

But for most, that dream doesn't make it further than the backyard. That’s not the case for Reds starting pitcher T.J. Zeuch, however.

On Tuesday, Zeuch, 27, made his first career start at Great American Ball Park, located just a half hour south of his hometown, Mason, Ohio. That’s quick enough for his wife and parents to make the trip down I-71 to witness the occasion.

Zeuch’s second start for Cincinnati ended similarly to his first on Aug. 10 against the Mets, lasting just four-plus innings, this time ending in an 11-4 loss for the Reds. Zeuch allowed six runs on 11 hits, while walking a batter and getting one strikeout.

Regardless of the outcome, the stage was something Zeuch will forever have on his résumé.

“I think [it all set in] when I first took the mound and went up in that first inning for my warm-ups,” he recalled. “I was standing on the mound and [I] kind of looked around and took everything in. I saw all the seats that I sat in as a kid. I really just tried to lock in and do my job.”

His outing was defined by a pair of two-out home runs he allowed back to back in the third inning to Phillies first baseman Darick Hall and right fielder Nick Castellanos.

In the bottom half of the inning, the Reds came back and took a lead with consecutive home runs of their own by DH Jake Fraley and second baseman Jonathan India. This marked the first time both teams have hit back-to-back home runs in the same inning this season and just the third time since the beginning of the 2021 season.

The following inning, Zeuch allowed another home run, this time a three-run blast to DH Rhys Hoskins.

He threw 78 pitches, 49 for strikes, and relied heavily on his usual sinker/slider combination for outs.

“I made a few mistakes,” Zeuch said. “I just didn't have my slider again today. [You’re] just not going to get by in this league with one pitch. I thought everything was flat for the most part. … Changeup, sinker, slider, everything just wasn't really sharp. I’ve just got to execute pitches better.

“I think the thing that just bothers me the most about that is that the guys come in, take the lead, and then for me to go out there and give it right back to them is just completely unacceptable.”

“T.J. threw strikes [against some] really good hitters. … The home runs got him,” manager David Bell said. “Other than that on a positive side, he got a lot of ground balls. When he’s good and when he’s going to be good and keep getting better, he’s going to get a lot of ground balls. He has a good sinker.”

After graduating from William Mason High School in 2013, Zeuch went on to pitch for three seasons at the University of Pittsburgh, before getting drafted by Toronto with their first-round pick (21st overall) in 2016.

He made his Major League debut three seasons later for the Blue Jays, but he never carved out a role with the team and was up and down in spot start opportunities. Through three seasons, the right-hander carried a record of 2-4 with a 4.59 ERA in 13 MLB appearances. Then this season, he was released from the Cardinals organization on May 26, after going 0-4 with an 11.64 ERA in five starts in the Minors.

He was scooped up by the Reds organization less than a week later.

The right-hander got a chance following a right shoulder injury to Robert Dugger. Additionally, rookie Hunter Greene has been sidelined with a right shoulder strain, while Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo were dealt at the Trade Deadline. In the wake of their absences, Cincinnati has struggled to get starting pitchers deep into outings, with Zeuch being the most recent case.

“All the guys we have here are here for a reason. They earned the opportunity,” Bell added. “We’re with them all the way. We’ll keep finding ways to get better. We have a great staff that are constantly looking at adjustments that can be made. A lot of times, it can seem a lot further off than it is. And a lot of times, it's just one simple adjustment. That goes for our position players, pitchers … all these guys.”