Who Is That Masked Man?

March 12, 2011

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Zane Evans likes to think he’s a pitcher — or at least think like one.

As a catcher, that’s a good thing to be able to do. As a former pitcher it’s a huge help, especially as a freshman getting used to catching talented arms like Mark Pope and Jed Bradley.

“I love pitching,” said Evans, who starred at as a pitcher and catcher at Roswell High School. “I can usually help them out a little bit, tell them what they’re doing wrong on the mound in the game. So I think it helps me out a lot catching because I know what they want to do and I know what I would do in the same spot. So I can kind of expect what’s going to come.”

Evans has been an ironman behind the plate for 13 of Georgia Tech’s 16 starts, including all four of Pope’s and all four of Bradley’s — the duo was a combined 7-0 following Friday night’s complete-game shutout by Pope. He admits that trying to think along with them can be challenging.

“Pope’s pretty tricky. He likes to pitch backwards and every ball he has moves a different way,” he said. “We call our own game so I’m getting a feel for how he likes to work. Then we go to Saturday, we have Jed, who overpowers guys. [Two Saturdays ago], I think he threw six innings of no-hit ball. So it’s fun to catch all of them. It’s a little different coming here because they both have their own methods of pitching. You just have to work with them. It’s been good.”

Evans has been a good fit considering the role he’s inherited and the history of the position at Georgia Tech.

The talented backstop inherits the position played last season by Cole Leonida, who was drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 MLB June Draft by the Washington Nationals, after a 2010 season that saw him hit .296 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs in 62 games and earn a berth on the All-ACC Academic Team. Of course, the legacy of catchers at Georgia Tech includes the likes of Major Leaguers like Baltimore Orioles Matt Wieters and Jason Varitek.

In fact, the ability to develop catchers — a role played by current assistant coach and former Jackets catcher Bryan Prince — was part of what drew Evans to The Flats and away from The Plains.

“I was originally going to Auburn but I decided that I really liked the coaches here and the program’s awesome,” he said. “It’s close to home and I love the city so I decided this is where I wanted to be.

“A lot of guys get drafted every year,” he added. “It’s just a great program, it really develops people. That’s kind of what got me in here.”

Comparison to Varitek has followed Evans, as prior to his settling in this year, the Red Sox captain was the last catcher to start as a freshman. Evans has gotten used to hearing the comparison almost non-stop since the end of Fall Practice.

“I try not to think about it,” he said. “[Varitek] put up some amazing numbers. I’m just trying to do what I do and see what I can do. Follow in his footsteps, maybe. It’s cool to think about, but I don’t know.”

What Tech does know is that he’s been rock solid behind the plate and, since a 2-for-13 stretch in his first four starts, Evans has regained his batting stroke.

“I started off a little bit slow but I finally got into the swing of things,” said Evans, who was hitting .394 (13-for-33) over his previous eight games heading into Saturday’s game against Maryland. “it takes a little while. I usually start the season off a little bit slow but it’s going pretty good thus far.”

Evans has solidified his role in the fifth spot in the order, as he’s hitting .313 (10-for-32) in that spot, and has made nice protection for fellow freshman Daniel Palka, who is hitting .345 (10-for-29) in the seven games the two have batted 4-5.

His bat might keep him in the lineup, even on days when Head Coach Danny Hall prefers to let him rest.

“I don’t think there’s any way we can ask him to catch as much as we asked Cole Leonida to catch last year. but we have [Matt] Skole,” said Hall. “I think we’ll just keep an eye on Zane and see how he holds up. It’s something we’ve got to monitor.”

So far, so good, said Evans.

“It’s good to have a game off every now and then, get rest and just kind of watch what’s going on, get to relax and just know my day’s the next day,” he said. “It’s pretty nice the way things have been going. I’ve been pretty rested so far.”

If anything, Evans is getting restless about getting to take on the ACC, which began this weekend. He personifies the freshman class, which is growing in confidence.

“Working in the fall, we faced Jed and Pope,” he said. “After facing Pope and Jed, I don’t see what could be much better. They got us ready to hit off some of the guys we’ve hit off. We haven’t really seen anyone like Pope or like Jed, throwing 94, 95, but they’ve helped us out a lot to get ready for all these guys.

“All of us, we’re just adjusting as freshmen,” he added. “We just have to come in here and do what we do. I’m curious to see what’s going to happen throughout the season.”

About the only thing that won’t happen for Evans this season is his getting to pitch.

“I was joking around with [Pitching Coach Tom Kinkelaar] the other day and asked him if I could throw a bullpen,” he said. “He said, ‘It won’t be until next fall.’ So I’m kind of a little upset about that, but I’m just going to help the team out any way I can.”

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