TERRE HAUTE —
It’s obviously a bonus to recruit a college baseball player that can pitch once a week and take the field and bat in the middle of the batting order the rest of the time.
Terre Haute South graduate A.J. Reed, for example, was one of the top young players in the nation to do so for nationally-ranked Kentucky. He’s taken his talents to the prestigious Cape Cod League this summer.
But Two left-handed pitchers take on a similar role for the 2012 Terre Haute Rex: Michael Schroeder and Kyle Zimmerman.
Rex manager Brian Dorsett quickly developed an affinity for Schroeder, a native of Crown Point who is leading the Prospect League with 27 runs-batted-in this season.
Schroeder joined the Rex late during the team’s run to a 2011 playoff berth as second-half champions of the Central Division, becoming a key addition and a starter in the playoffs.
“He took the ball, he came in on the road, he actually got two wins in a doubleheader. It was funny because we hadn't even seen him swing the bat yet. Then all of a sudden he got up, he’s driving the ball everywhere,” Dorsett said.
Schroeder was the first player to contact Dorsett about playing again in 2012, showing he enjoys playing at Bob Warn Field. Dorsett lights up when talking about the versatile ballplayer.
“He was the first guy last year that even asked me about playing. I said 'you've got a spot on my squad right now.’ He’s a two-way guy that loves to compete,” Dorsett said.
Zimmerman, a left-handed thrower and right-handed batter, has played well recently in both roles. He tossed 8 1/3 innings in a winning effort Saturday and had three hits Tuesday night against Dubois County.
Rex pitching coach John Howes said both guys have been fun to coach, especially considering the extra work it takes to prepare in that dual role.
“He knows how to pitch, knows how to work hitters,” Howes said of Zimmerman. “They’re both bulldogs. They compete and go after batters. They’re a joy to coach because you know they’re going to give it their all every time out.”
Schroeder had a big spring for Lewis University, a Division II program in the far West suburbs of Chicago. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior made 45 starts at first base and eight starts on the mound, hitting .335 with seven home runs and 38 RBIs. He was also third on the team with a 3.18 earned-run average in 51 innings.
Zimmerman was just a freshman at Division II Wayne State University, starting six games and batting .287 as an every-day first baseman. Balancing both jobs just takes a little extra mental focus, but it’s something Zimmerman has grown accustomed to.
“I’ve done it my whole life so I’ve gotten used to it. You’ve just got to keep in mind the things you have to do with position players and pitching. Make your start, get your running in as a pitcher,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman has struggled at times in the first inning, Howes said, but has settled into some quality starts. At the plate, he’s hitting .333 over the last week to raise his average to .230.
“I’m starting to feel better at the plate. I was struggling a little bit. I just need to let the ball get deeper. I’ve been working in the cage a little bit,” Zimmerman said.
Schroeder has been a consistent force in the Rex lineup since the beginning of the 2012 season. His 10 doubles lead the Rex and rank him second in the league. Many of those are balls that find the gap in left-center field.
“I’m an oppo guy. I like seeing the ball deep so anytime I do that, I just like putting the barrel on it,” Schroeder said. “When I was younger, I liked to pull everything. Now people just tell me to look at the opposite field. I usually just go where the pitch is pitched.”
Schroeder laid into a ball and drove it to right-center field for a home run off the scoreboard in a big win Tuesday against Dubois County as the Rex pounded out 14 hits in a 12-6 victory.
“I got a hanging off-speed pitch and just got the barrel out there,” Schroeder said of the two-run shot.
On Saturday, Schroeder stepped in for his first start on the mound when Kameron Stady had some pain his arm. Schroeder tossed 4 2/3 innings and allowed just one run as the Rex eventually won 2-1.
“I’ll play outfield, first base, pitch, wherever they need me,” Schroeder said.
His most important role appears to be run producer. Dorsett has used him in the clean-up spot in most games.
“I’m seeing the ball well, I like being up in those situations. As a hitter, if you get a man in scoring position, that's what you have to do, get them in,” Schroeder said.