By Ron Moshier – The Utica OD
Former New York Mills high school ace Zach Vennaro is now starring as a Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League closer for the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs.Closing games is still relatively new to him.
It hasn’t stopped Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs pitcher Zach Vennaro from starring in that summertime role.
Vennaro, once the all-state ace of a New York Mills high school team that won its first Section III title in 36 years and now a scholarship pitcher at Monroe Community College in Rochester, has been one of the top relievers in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League (PGCBL) in his first season with the Little Falls club.
And he is feeling more and more comfortable in that role. “It’s a little different,” Vennaro said. “In the beginning, it was a little weird, but I got a taste of it at Monroe so it really hasn’t been that difficult to adapt.“When you’re coming out of the pen, you can put everything you have into every single pitch. … I like being able to come in, give it all you’ve got for that inning or so, and close the game out.”
The 6-foot-6, 210-pound right-hander has been doing just that.The DiamondDawgs are hosting the PGCBL All-Star Game on Monday, and Vennaro has earned a spot on the East Division roster.
Entering Tuesday’s game, Vennaro – who didn’t allow an earned run in his first 15ª innings – had appeared in a team-high 12 games. He was 2-1 with four saves and a 0.96 ERA, and he had 23 strikeouts in 18ª innings.
“I could just tell he was better suited to be a closer, a one time through the order guy,” DiamondDawgs coach Blake Nation said. “He’s got the stuff to do it. He’s got a high 80s, low 90s fastball, he keeps it low and he goes after guys. And when he mixes in the breaking ball, kids just don’t have a chance.”
Nation, a 6-foot-8 right-handed pitcher out of Georgia Southern University who was drafted by the Seattle Mariners and played in the minors for several seasons, also believes Vennaro has a closer’s mentality.
“He’s done a great job, and I think he loves it,” Nation said. “He’s a good character kid, a good locker room guy. … Some guys who are starting pitchers kind of get bummed out (by the move to the bullpen), and they don’t take on the challenge of being a reliever – especially a closer – because it’s not that easy.
“You’ve got to be mentally into it and ready physically for that challenge. Zach has accepted it. That’s just how he is.”
Vennaro played last summer with the Sherrill Silversmiths of the New York Collegiate Baseball League (NYCBL). He appeared in 10 games and made seven starts, finishing 4-3 with one save and a 2.79 ERA.
Since then, he has gotten bigger and stronger thanks to coach Dave Brust’s strength and conditioning program at Monroe CC, where he helped the Tribunes (33-18) reach the finals of the NJCAA Division II East District Championships.
Vennaro pitched in 15 games, made five starts, and was 3-3 with a 6.92 ERA. His freshman season ended with three tournament appearances in two days, two as a reliever and the last as a starter. On championship Sunday, he was the winner in relief in an elimination game and later that day he started the final, pitching into the eighth inning before leaving with the game tied.
“If I had to do that the year before, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it,” he said. “But I really hit the weight room hard and ran a lot; that really has helped me.
“I’ve got more velocity on my fastball now, and I’ve just taken what coach (Brust) taught me at Monroe and brought it here. He really harped on me to keep the ball at the knees and throw first-pitch strikes, and that’s what I’ve been able to do here.”
On June 24, Vennaro threw four shutout innings, striking out six in his longest outing of the season. He didn’t get the win, but the DiamondDawgs wound up outlasting Adirondack 8-7 in 17 innings, the longest game ever played in the PGCBL.
With another year left at Monroe CC, Nation already sees Vennaro as an NCAA Division I prospect who “can go there and succeed” at that level. And Vennaro believes that proving himself as a closer will look good on his baseball resume.
“It’s definitely been a good experience for me,” he said. “Hopefully, I can show (Division I) schools that I can do it.”
Iseneker in Dawgs’ starting rotation
Two other local players – St. John Fisher College star Marc Iseneker of Sherrill and Herkimer County Community College’s Lucas Godlewski of Little Falls – are also members of the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs’ pitching staff.
Godlewski (0-0, 6.35 ERA) has returned from an injury to appear in six games as a reliever. Iseneker is in the starting rotation, and after seven starts, the former Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School sidearmer was 0-3 with a 3.92 ERA, and he was fourth in the league with 35 strikeouts in 39 innings.
“His slider is unbelievable,” DiamondDawgs coach Blake Nation said. “He’s got great movement with his slider and his fastball. We’ve had guys swinging at his slider when it was so outside the catcher couldn’t even catch it.”