No time wasted

Zagurski relishes meteoric rise to majors

Mike Zagurski hurls a pitch during his senior season in 2005. Zagurski, now a reliever with the Philadelphia Phillies, posted gaudy ERAs in single-A and double-A leagues before being promoted to the major-league club late last month.

? Five years ago, Mike Zagurski was raking his own pitcher’s mound at Hutchinson Community College, surviving on meager meal money and taking stretch vans all over small-town Kansas just to play baseball.

Five weeks ago wasn’t much different. At that point, Zagurski still was in the low minors, making next to nothing and playing alongside many players who never will sniff the show.

So forgive Zagurski for still soaking in his budding career with the Philadelphia Phillies. He really hasn’t had the time to let his mind catch up.

“It was a pretty quick transition from one step to the next,” Zagurski admitted. “But I’ve enjoyed it.”

Zagurski, a former Kansas University pitcher, was in Kansas City over the weekend as the Phillies played the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

He wasn’t alone, either – a devoted party of loved ones, totaling close to 60 family members and former teammates, came and watched him play. Of those, about 20 made the trek to Atlanta on May 25 to see Zagurski throw a scoreless inning in his big-league debut.

They didn’t have a lot of notice. Zagurski started 2007 in single-A, so getting a phone call saying “I’m playing the Atlanta Braves tomorrow” wasn’t one anyone was anticipating.

Still, even if Zagurski wasn’t completely aware, the Phillies were watching him closely earlier this season, thinking a call-up was in the cards.

“When we were in spring training, his command was getting better and better, and he was throwing strikes,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “He had a good fastball, he sits 92 or 93 and throws a slider with it.

“We definitely needed a left-hander. We moved him up to (double-A) Reading, and we wanted to see him pitch there. We sent some of our guys down like (senior advisor) Dallas Green and some of the big guys in our organization to see him pitch. They went to see him, and they thought he could help us at the major-league level. We neeeded a left-hander, so we called him up.”

Zagurski, who lives in Lawrence in the offseason, had a 1.10 ERA in single-A Clearwater earlier this year before posting a 1.29 ERA in Reading. With the big club, he’s had scoreless outings in six of his seven appearances and has a 1-0 record with a 3.86 ERA so far.

“I’ve been OK,” Zagurski said. “I missed with some pitches, and I’ve come into some situations where I allowed a few (inherited) runs. I made a couple of bad pitches. It’s going to happen.”

Zagurski grew up an Oakland Athletics fan in Omaha, Neb. He was no prodigy, though – he lettered just two years at Millard North High and went to junior college because “I wasn’t ready for Division-I baseball. I was still raw, and I didn’t throw a lot of strikes.”

By his sophomore year at Hutch, Zagurski was better prepared. He was 8-0 with a 2.53 ERA his sophomore year and chose to go just up the road and finish his career at KU.

With the Jayhawks, he had a 4-4 record with a 4.81 ERA as a junior before going 8-4 with a 4.95 ERA as a senior. Only a couple weeks after his college career ended, the Phillies picked him in the 12th round of the 2005 draft.

“I think when I first got to KU, I was fairly confident I’d get the opportunity (to get drafted),” Zagurski said. “I didn’t have great years at Kansas. I thought I had OK years. But being a left-handed pitcher, I figured I’d get an opportunity.”

Zagurski remained a starter for the beginning of his first professional season before moving to the bullpen. He spent two full seasons in single-A to start his professional career.

He had a 2007 goal of starting in double-A, which didn’t happen. He then tweaked it and aimed to be called up to double-A by the end of the season.

That did happen – and then some. On June 7, he earned his first major-league win, pitching a scoreless inning and striking out one against the New York Mets.

So much for reaching his goals. He demolished them.

“A kid that was in A-ball two weeks, three weeks ago,” Manuel said with a proud grin. “For him to be in the Major Leagues getting big-league hitters out, that kind of says quite a bit about him.

“He has a future in the big leagues, and he definitely has a future with us.”