LYNN — North Shore Navigators manager Todd Alford’s looking for his pitching staff to improve as the team embarks on the second half of its season. With that said, the second half projects to be an important stretch of the season for right-handed relief pitcher Zach Begin.
A rising sophomore at Division III St. Joseph’s in Maine, Begin has made 10 appearances and two starts on the mound for the Navigators this summer. Begin, in 28 2/3 innings of work, has one save, a 3.76 ERA and 24 strikeouts.
“Things are going great (this summer),” Begin, who graduated from St. John’s Prep in 2017 and played two seasons of varsity baseball for the Eagles, said. “I haven’t pitched the way I’m pitching now before. I’ve been really challenged which is what I wanted to get out of this experience. I’ve faced a lot of great hitters. I’ve played with great teammates and great coaches. Todd has taught me so much about pitching that I didn’t know before joining the Navs.”
Throughout the Futures Collegiate Baseball League season, Begin has worked closely with Alford in developing a reliable and effective change-up. Begin threw a change-up occasionally during his freshman season at St. Joseph’s, but has seen drastic improvement in the pitch this summer. Begin’s four-pitch arsenal also includes a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball and a curveball.
“My biggest area to improve on was developing my change-up and my curveball to the best of my abilities,” Begin, a Georgetown native, said. “Coach Alford showed me a change-up and it’s already becoming one of the best pitches I throw. My curveball is developing shape and I’m really proud of that.
“I was working with a change-up that I’ve tried at school,” Begin added. “It was pretty average. The one I have now is absolutely phenomenal. I’m hoping to bring that to school and fool hitters with that.”
North Shore’s pitching staff share a similar story to how the Navigators season has gone thus far. The pitchers, and the team as a whole, started slow out of the gate. Since then, the Navigators have dug themselves out of last place in the FCBL standings and the pitchers have shown signs of consistency.
“The biggest thing is we’ve gotten closer as a team,” Begin said. “We’re not only teammates but we’re also friends. We’re really picking it up, especially over the past few weeks. Our chemistry has developed. We’re learning more and more about each other and we have great chemistry on our team.”
But there’s plenty of work left as the FBCL playoff race heats up. If the pitchers can figure things out from the mound and the hitters can produce timely hits with runners in scoring positions, North Shore feels it’ll find itself in the thick of the postseason push. The Navigators, 15-25 on the season, are currently in sixth place in the league. Six of the seven FCBL teams will qualify for the postseason.
“I think the pitching is one of the things we need to work on as a staff,” Begin said. “We’re a great staff. We just need to work on the little things like limiting passed balls. We need to produce more runs instead of leaving guys on base. We’re in a crucial time of the season and we need to get runners through home plate.
Begin added, “Everybody’s excited to potentially make the postseason. We’re in it to win it. We don’t want to see the season end early.”
With three seasons remaining in his college baseball career, Begin’s thankful for the opportunity to develop as a pitcher while facing top-notch competition with the Navigators.
“This season has been phenomenal,” Begin said. “I really wanted to find a spot where I could develop as a pitcher. I’m facing guys from Vanderbilt, Arizona, Houston. Watching myself get these batters out really helps my confidence. I was really excited when I got the opportunity to play on the team. Even if somebody hits a home run off me, it’s a learning experience for me. This has been a really good experience for me.”
North Shore hosts Martha’s Vineyard Sunday evening (5) with five home games on next week’s schedule.