Failure is learning for Frank Mozzicato, whose dominance in CT landed him as the Royals' top pick a year ago

Frank Mozzicato, a Connecticut native and first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2021, has made a temporary home in Columbia, South Carolina where he pitches for the Royals' Single-A affiliate the Fireflies. Mozzicato is seen here Sunday, July 10, in a game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
Photo by Jeff Blake / Jeff Blake Photo
Photo of Mike Anthony

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Frank Mozzicato spun one curveball through the gooey South Carolina humidity late Sunday afternoon and the ball snapped sharply downward over the plate, as if pulled by a magnet, before popping into the glove of Columbia Fireflies catcher Omar Hernandez.

Two pitches later, same thing — same curveball, same location and same call from umpire Shea Graham: ball. Mozzicato’s reaction was measured, a little hunch forward with a quizzical stare, only briefly resembling a statue of disbelief.

As Kevin Made, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans batter, headed to first base with a walk, Mozzicato caught Graham’s attention.

“Where were those?” Mozzicato asked.

“Low,” he was told.

“I’m living low,” Mozzicato said. “You’re calling every other one.”

Mozzicato retired the next batter on a fly ball to right field, closing out a scoreless first inning on the 365th day of his professional baseball career, which for now and the foreseeable future is a minor league life of monotony spliced every six days by an appearance on the mound and a departure from his otherwise lighthearted nature.

“He’s a great competitor,” said Tony Pena Jr., manager of the Fireflies. “When he’s out there, he’s got that killer look.”

Mozzicato, the Ellington native who blazed through his senior season at East Catholic like few, if any, players in Connecticut high school baseball history, is in his first season of low Single A ball. It’s an entry-level position for a promising career to which the Kansas City Royals have already committed $3.55 million, the bonus Mozzicato agreed to when signing his contract last July.

Mozzicato, 19, drives a Porsche Cayenne — black exterior, red interior — to and from Segra Park, home of the Fireflies, and in and around Irmo, the suburb where he shares an apartment with three teammates, all of them also rookies. He has a closet full of new clothes and access to enough cash, but not really the time or opportunity, to do whatever he wants on a given day.

In 10 starts for the Fireflies, Mozzicato is 0-3 with a 5.52 ERA. He has 37 strikeouts, but also 26 walks, in 29 1/3 innings, work that represents the typical rookie see-saw, the careful approach of an organization and the mental bumper car scenario of reality meeting expectation, patience meeting urgency.

“You have to accept failure here,” Mozzicato said a day before his start, sitting in the dugout on the third base side. “We were drafted for a reason as much as those hitters were drafted for a reason. You’ve got to have the utmost confidence in your stuff, saying ‘I’m better than that guy.’ But I think failing is learning, especially right now. I’m getting my feet wet in this industry, learning the ins and outs, learning from mistakes. It hasn’t been hard. But the competitiveness in me, I do get frustrated just because I want to be the best possible.”

Most days long and uneventful. Time is passed by sliding playing cards across a clubhouse table, by laying across a row of bus seats while barnstorming towns of the Carolina League, by creating distractions during 10-hour workdays at the ballpark.

“You have to accept failure here,” Mozzicato said a day before his start, sitting in the dugout on the third base side. “We were drafted for a reason as much as those hitters were drafted for a reason. You’ve got to have the utmost confidence in your stuff, saying ‘I’m better than that guy.’

Teenagers are good at goofing around and making something out of nothing. But there is little significant variation, outside of his designated pitching day, to Mozzicato’s new life. Whether the team is home or on the road, he sleeps late, usually heads to the ballpark around noon, works with Fireflies coaches and roving Royals instructors for several hours, sits around for three hours before the game and another three during it, returns to his apartment or hotel, stays up late and repeats that process day in and day out.

As many of his friends from Ellington and East Catholic have gone about their something-new-everyday experiences as college freshmen and bounced around New England this summer for beaches and parties, Mozzicato has played rummy in his living room or near his locker for what feels like the highest of stakes — loser, for instance, has to mop the apartment floor. His travel has been to Southern towns that, for a Connecticut kid, might feel like foreign lands.

Mondays are typically off days for the Fireflies so they are golfing days, cleaning days, shopping days, errand days for Mozzicato. It was just past noon on this most recent Monday, the one-year anniversary of his being selected by the Royals with the seventh overall pick in the 2021 Major League draft, when he entered his favorite bagel shop in Irmo, a town of 12,000 near the shores of Lake Murray.

Frank Mozzicato, a Connecticut native and first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2021, has made a temporary home in Columbia, South Carolina where he pitches for the Royals' Single-A affiliate the Fireflies. Mozzicato is seen here Sunday, July 10, in a game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Frank Mozzicato, a Connecticut native and first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2021, has made a temporary home in Columbia, South Carolina where he pitches for the Royals' Single-A affiliate the Fireflies. Mozzicato is seen here Sunday, July 10, in a game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Photo by Jeff Blake / Jeff Blake Photo

Mozzicato, a regular, was greeted enthusiastically by those behind the counter. He had lasted 3 2/3 innings the night before against the Pelicans, allowing two unearned runs and two hits while striking out four. After he slid into a booth, someone said, “Not bad last night.”

“Four walks,” Mozzicato said. “Not good.”

And then between bites of a breakfast sandwich, he relived the frustrations of that particular game, essentially the early frustrations of any career in its infancy.

At the conclusion of that first inning, Mozzicato was headed toward the dugout when Shea approached to check his hand for illegal substances, presenting an opportunity to advance their discussion about the strike zone.

“I was like, ‘Be consistent, please,’ ” Mozzicato said. “I’m like, ‘I’m working off you. I don’t care if you’re bad or if you’re good, just be consistent.’ He said, ‘I got you, I got you.’ ”

Mozzicato paused, seemingly a little recognition for where he is — unrefined for now, a years-long process ahead.

“I was just pissed about the walk,” he said.

‘What I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little kid’

This is the first job of Mozzicato’s young life.

In high school, he was devoted exclusively to education and baseball, an experience that culminated with waves of Major League scouts attending games to see him close out a senior season with a 9-0 record, a 0.16 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings.

Mozzicato threw four consecutive no-hitters, at one point going 30 1/3 innings without allowing a hit. With a 17-strikeout, one-hit performance in East Catholic’s CIAC Class M championship victory over Northwestern, he finished his high school career with a scoreless streak of 49 2/3 innings.

“Frankie kept doing his thing,” Anthony Mozzicato, his father, said. “And this perfect storm started forming.”

Mozzicato had previously committed to UConn, but with every snap of that signature curveball, and with every uptick in fastball velocity into the low-90’s, professional baseball began to make sense as the immediate option worth pursuing.

The family considered how to plan for the draft. The first round was scheduled June 11, 2021, a Sunday night. Rounds 2-10 were to be held the next day. Mozzicato, a lefthander, was projected as a late first-round, or a second-round, selection.

“We didn’t want to have anybody at the house because you never know how it’s going to go,” said Suzanne Mozzicato, Frank’s mother. “But we did, just to celebrate that he had a really good run. ‘He’ll get drafted in 24-48 hours. Let’s celebrate that no matter when he goes.’”

Less than an hour into the draft, Mozzicato got word from an adviser that if the Diamondbacks selected Jordan Lawler at No. 6, the Royals were expected to take Mozzicato at No. 7.

Looking back, there were indications that this is how it might play out. In the week leading up to the draft, Mozzicato and his parents spent several days in California, with Frank working out for the Padres, Dodgers and Angels. During the trip, the Royals asked to meet with the family via Zoom, leading to an elaborate discussion over 90 minutes about life as much as baseball.

“He just turned 19 and he’s been thrust into this very adult, professional world,” Suzanne Mozzicato said of her son.

When the Mozzicatos returned home on July 10, there was note on the door from the Royals, wishing Frank well. That was, the family figured, a thanks-but-no-thanks gesture. Maybe, they considered, the Royals would target Frank with their second-round selection (43rd overall).

But that call came in from the adviser, with 40 or so friends and family gathered in the home, watching the ESPN telecast. And the Diamondbacks did take Lawler with the sixth pick. Karl Ravech and company started talking about the Royals and Vanderbilt prospect Kumar Rocker. Mozzicato looked over at his father, joking about the situation, how no one outside their little baseball orbit knew what was about to take place.

Mozzicato’s selection began a bit of a roll-the-dice process on both sides. The “slot” amount for the No. 7 pick was $5.43 million. The Royals were offering well below that, looking to stretch their $10.92 million bonus pool.

But if Mozzicato had been passed on by the Royals, he may have been selected where he was actually projected — say, late first round or early second round — and his slot bonus would have been in the $1-3 million range. He could have declined the $3.55 million signing bonus and opted to play three seasons for Jim Penders at UConn.

What, though, could have been expected from that experience, no matter how much he would have embraced it, even loved it? That he would have three spectacular seasons, remain injury-free and play his way into the top six of the 2024 draft?

“All we know is he was drafted seventh, it was more money than he was going to get anywhere else and it was more money than we could have ever imagined him getting, quite frankly,” Suzanne Mozzicato said. “We were just grateful and blessed that he could receive that money and go with an organization we were really comfortable with.”

“And this is just what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little kid,” Mozzicato said. “Play professional baseball.”

Frank Mozzicato, a Connecticut native and first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2021, has made a temporary home in Columbia, South Carolina where he pitches for the Royals' Single-A affiliate the Fireflies. Mozzicato is seen here Sunday, July 10, in a game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Frank Mozzicato, a Connecticut native and first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2021, has made a temporary home in Columbia, South Carolina where he pitches for the Royals' Single-A affiliate the Fireflies. Mozzicato is seen here Sunday, July 10, in a game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Photo by Jeff Blake / Jeff Blake Photo

The Mozzicatos — Frank, his parents and his older brother, Anthony, a pitcher for Central Connecticut — were at Kauffman Stadium, home of the Royals, on July 17, 2021, a year ago Sunday, to make it official. Mozzicato signed a contract and, days later, he was in Surprise, Az., at the Royals training facility, where he remained through extended spring training. Somewhere along the line, he signed 25,000 baseball cards, opening box after box while propped up in bed, an obligation to his contracts with Topps, Leaf and Pinini.

“You know, it was pretty easy,” Mozzicato said at the bagel shop. “Because, same thing as here, sometimes there wasn’t much to do in Arizona.”

From Ellington to Columbia

The alphanumeric code that speaks to Mozzicato’s heart: 41.9173° N, 72.4582° W.

That is the newest tattoo inked into his right forearm, the geographical coordinates for Ellington. Above that is another relatively new tattoo, of an arrow, Mozzicato’s appreciation for the fact that whatever drags you back in life will ultimately propel you forward to greater things. His first tattoo, on his arm for nearly two years now, is a cross and text from Philippians 4:13. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Columbia, with a metropolitan area population of about 700,000, is extremely muggy, some 130 miles from the coast, no sea breeze to cool the air. It’s as if the humidity collects only to be dumped regularly on the town with the steel blanket of thunderstorms.

One can lose weight, Mozzicato said, just by sitting around. He ate “a few” protein bars before making his way to the dugout the day before his start, ordered Chipotle delivery during a long conversation about life in the minors, and a team pregame meal was to be served about an hour later in the clubhouse.

Segra Park (capacity: 7,300, plus standing room) is the centerpiece to ambitious development about a mile outside of downtown Columbia, a city at the intersection of various historical appreciations and charged political air.

A Confederate Flag on Saturday hung from a pole at the north side of the South Carolina State House, where groups who support preservation of that flag had gathered to raise it. Fifty or so protesters were on site hours later, many of them wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, separated from a couple dozen police officers while chanting “A-C-A-B … All Cops Are Bastards.”

There was a lot going on at the foot of the Confederate Soldiers Statute, which reads on one side, “This monument perpetuates the memory of those who, true to the instincts of their birth, faithful to the teachings of their fathers, constant in their love for the state, died in the performance of their duty.”

Anyway, this is a small slice of the world Mozzicato has parachuted into, one he’s actually removed from — because he’s almost always home or at the ballpark, which was opened in 2016 on a 180-acre lot of previously state-owned land, many subdivisions of which have been purchased by developers.

For years, since the early 1800’s, these grounds were occupied by what was initially called The South Carolina Lunatic Asylum. Union Civil War prisoners were once detained there, too, just beyond what is now center field. Some of the historic buildings have been preserved. The famous Babcock Building, for instance, part of the mental health facility, has been refurbished, now luxury apartments.

“I think our clubhouse was an infirmary,” Mozzicato said.

His Porsche, at the time, was parked in front of the dilapidated William H. Hall Psychiatric Institute, hidden by overgrown brush a little more than a foul ball away from Segra’s seats along the third-base line. This is the BullStreet District. A brewery is coming soon. There’s an REI, a Starbucks, a restaurant, all sorts of apartments. More plans will be unveiled, more buildings erected, for the next 10-plus years.

Mozzicato will be long gone for most of it, of course. But there’s a good chance Mozzicato will begin next season in Columbia, though minor league roads are unpredictable until they’re actually paved. He’ll likely have several areas of the country to temporarily get used to while in his early-20s. The Royals High A affiliate, the Quad Cities River Bandits, is in Davenport, Iowa. The Double A team, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, is in Springdale, Ark. The Triple A Omaha Storm Chasers are out in Nebraska.

Then there’s Kansas City.

For now, he’s with the Fireflies, sometimes wearing Nike’s obnoxiously fluorescent “Volt” yellow as a primary color on the uniform, sometimes wearing Royals blue, as he did for his most recent start. The Fireflies average an announced 3,300 fans a night. The club, previously affiliated with the Mets, peaked well beyond that in 2017, when Tim Tebow took up baseball and remained a curiosity. College football is huge in the South, of course. So is religion. Churches cover the Columbia landscape like Dunkin’ Donuts in Greater Hartford. The Fireflies tend not to bother with promotions on Sunday, so as not to compete with God.

Mozzicato tries not to think the major leagues too often, even if it’s occasionally fun to discuss around the card table. He just shows up at Segra Park, reminding himself that every bullpen session, every lift, every start is the most important thing he’ll do all year.

Mozzicato isn’t even a Connecticut resident anymore. There are Florida plates on his Porsche. He has an apartment lined up for the offseason in Jupiter, not far from Cressey Sports Performance, the training company he has worked with the past couple years.

A year removed from his breezy East Catholic experience and a year into this grind, Mozzicato said, “I’m a way better pitcher, in the sense of looking at hitters’ swings and where their holes are. In high school, I could just go fastball, fastball, fastball if I really wanted to. Or fastball, fastball, curveball. This is so much different, figuring out swings, seeing if they’re late or early, where their hands start, where their barrel is in the zone. I’d have to say, I’m a better pitcher. But it’s harder.”

Mozzicato is sharing this experience like he shared his high school experience — with extremely close friends by his side.

Frank Mozzicato, a Connecticut native and first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2021, has made a temporary home in Columbia, South Carolina where he pitches for the Royals' Single-A affiliate the Fireflies. Mozzicato is seen here Sunday, July 10, in a game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Frank Mozzicato, a Connecticut native and first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2021, has made a temporary home in Columbia, South Carolina where he pitches for the Royals' Single-A affiliate the Fireflies. Mozzicato is seen here Sunday, July 10, in a game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Photo by Jeff Blake / Jeff Blake Photo

East Catholic’s 25-0 record, and all the no-hitters, were wonderful. But what people don’t realize, Mozzicato said proudly and emphatically, is that the greatest part of high school baseball was simply taking the field with his best friends — Hank Penders and Ryan Shaw among them.

He cherishes those memories.

He cherishes the ones he’s making, too.

‘He’s an employee and he has bosses’

Games of rummy decide just about everything in Mozzicato’s new home, the two-bedroom apartment he shares with pitchers Ben Kudrna and Shane Panzini and catcher Carter Jensen. State of the art entertainment options, from PlayStation to Xbox, are within reach but usually just collecting dust.

“No matter what time we get home, it’s always at least two hours of cards,” Panzini said. “We bought a lot of stuff, and the best investment we made was a three-dollar deck of cards.”

“First place gets to take out the trash, easiest job,” Kudrna said. “Second place, you’ve got dishes. Third you’ve got to clean this or that. Fourth, sucks for you, you’re mopping and sweeping.”

The Royals used their second-round selection to draft Kudrna, 19, a righthanded pitcher from just outside Kansas City who had committed to LSU. Because Mozzicato agreed to sign under the slot, the Royals were able to sign Kudrna over the slot, with a reported $3 million bonus. Kudrna bought a big truck, a Ram 1500, and made it even bigger by having it lifted and putting on gigantic tires.

The Royals selected Panzini, 20, a New Jersey kid, with their fourth-round pick, reportedly giving him a $1 million bonus. Panzini, who had committed to Virginia, bought a condo and is about to buy a Cadillac. He and Mozzicato share a room in the apartment, which is paid for by Major League Baseball.

Jensen, a third-round pick who had also committed to LSU, reportedly signed for about $1.1 million.

“Having the group we have takes away a lot of the job feeling, the expectation feeling,” Kudrna said. “That’s how I look at it, showing up at these fields now, I’m just showing up with my friends, my brothers, it’s like it always has been.”

“I have three brothers back home,” Panzini said. “These are like my three brothers away from home.”

The Royals organization, from veteran players to coaches, get such a kick out of the pitching trio. They’re all a bit goofy, wide-eyed, easily entertained. They go everywhere and do everything together. And depending on how they pitch in a given week, those around the team refer to them as Three Amigos or the Three Stooges.

“They call us freshmen, and we’re just typical freshmen doing our thing,” Mozzicato said. “They make fun of us all the time. I’m super thankful for those guys. We’re all going through this together. It’s like I’ve known those guys since I was little. It makes everything so much easier. Same interests. Same personalities. We just click really well.”

Mozzicato, Kudrna and Panzini were roommates in Arizona, too, for instructional league play and extended spring training. Just last week, a conversation over a late-night game of cards was essentially the three of them dreaming aloud, saying how neat it would be if they could climb the minor league ladder and eventually debut with the Royals together.

“Luckily he is surrounded by kids in the same exact situation,” Anthony Mozzicato said. “We love how the Royals are keeping those kids together right now, for as long as possible.”

These friendships give each player something that feels familiar. They goof around at home and show up to the park and goof around some more, just another summer under the sun, a healthy everyday approach to a situation with a more serious big-picture reality.

“He just turned 19 and he’s been thrust into this very adult, professional world,” Suzanne Mozzicato said of her son. “It’s been an adjustment for us as parents but we also want him to continue to know we’re still there to support him, just like he would be if he were finishing his first year at UConn. We’re trying to keep that relationship and that support very similar.”

Mozzicato’s parents try to visit him every four weeks or so.

“He’s an employee of a major corporation that is big money,” Suzanne said. “So he’s an employee and he has bosses. That’s a lot even for an adult to sometimes comprehend and adjust to that level of responsibility. But once he decided to sign that professional contract, that’s what he did. He has to take that very serious. But on the flip side, he is just a kid.”

Mozzicato, represented by New York-based Excel Sports Management, has a financial adviser. His money is accessible, but he’s choosing not to touch most of it, setting up a monthly stipend and pouring the rest — the signing bonus is paid incrementally — into an investment account as it comes in. The baseball card contracts tend to net players a couple bucks a signature.

He rarely spends more than $50 in a day and has a lifestyle largely covered by this bi-weekly minor league paychecks of $700 (during the season, only).

The Porsche was Mozzicato’s one extravagant purchase. He makes monthly payments on a loan. He didn’t buy it outright because it would have eaten up the $100,000 or so he had in his bank account at the time last year.

When Mozzicato drove a family car back home in Ellington, his mother liked to point at it and remind him, “That’s mine.”

“Now,” he said of the Porsche, “I tell her that’s mine!”

He laughed heartily, then paused.

“Actually, it’s hers,” he said. “It’s in her name. Because I have no credit.”

Frank Mozzicato, a Connecticut native and first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2021, has made a temporary home in Columbia, South Carolina where he pitches for the Royals' Single-A affiliate the Fireflies. Mozzicato is seen here Sunday, July 10, in a game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Frank Mozzicato, a Connecticut native and first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2021, has made a temporary home in Columbia, South Carolina where he pitches for the Royals' Single-A affiliate the Fireflies. Mozzicato is seen here Sunday, July 10, in a game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Photo by Jeff Blake / Jeff Blake Photo

Crawling before walking

The second inning of Sunday’s game was a breeze for Mozzicato, who struck out the first two batters, both swings and misses on devastating curveballs. He allowed a one-out single before recording the third out on a fielder’s choice.

He was at 35 pitches, halfway to an only-slightly flexible limit of 70, and his full repertoire was on display.

When Mozzicato’s curveball bites and snaps the way it should, it is beautiful, sharp and steep and aggressive, in the high 70s MPH or low 80s. Occasionally, though, every four or five pitches, that curveball escapes him and floats well out of the zone or, worse, right over the plate without much motion.

That curveball is designed to cross the plate low in the zone, or bounce in front of the plate. The difference, Mozzicato explained, raising his left arm with his sandwich in his right, is a matter of a release point, of inches.

His fastball sometimes sails, too, and the expectation is that any and all of these imperfections with execution will be resolved by repetition. Mozzicato alternates “catch-play” days with bullpen days when he’s not starting, and lifts weight a couple times a week. Command of all pitches will sharpen over the next few years as his muscles develop. He is 6-foot-3 and up to 188 pounds.

Everything is so specialized in professional baseball, where the strike zone feels like the size of a fist to any first-year player and the opponents are paid to hit. The margin for error is razor thin.

Frank Mozzicato, a Connecticut native and first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2021, has made a temporary home in Columbia, South Carolina where he pitches for the Royals' Single-A affiliate the Fireflies. Mozzicato is seen here Sunday, July 10, in a game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Frank Mozzicato, a Connecticut native and first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2021, has made a temporary home in Columbia, South Carolina where he pitches for the Royals' Single-A affiliate the Fireflies. Mozzicato is seen here Sunday, July 10, in a game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Photo by Jeff Blake / Jeff Blake Photo
Frank Mozzicato, a Connecticut native and first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2021, has made a temporary home in Columbia, South Carolina where he pitches for the Royals' Single-A affiliate the Fireflies. Mozzicato is seen here Sunday, July 10, in a game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Frank Mozzicato, a Connecticut native and first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2021, has made a temporary home in Columbia, South Carolina where he pitches for the Royals' Single-A affiliate the Fireflies. Mozzicato is seen here Sunday, July 10, in a game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Photo by Jeff Blake / Jeff Blake Photo
Frank Mozzicato, a Connecticut native and first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2021, has made a temporary home in Columbia, South Carolina where he pitches for the Royals' Single-A affiliate the Fireflies. Mozzicato is seen here Sunday, July 10, in a game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. | Photo by Jeff Blake / Jeff Blake Photo

The Royals are not making drastic changes to how Mozzicato operates. He turned 19 on June 19. The average age for a pitcher in the league is 21.8 years. In the game Mozzicato started Sunday, reliever Ben Werenski, also a rookie, had five years on him.

“The No. 1 thing for kids like Frank is just to learn to how to command the strike zone with all their pitches,” Pena, his manager, said. “That’s why it’s so important for him to continue to just trust the process and what he’s working on. It’s experience. A baby learns how to crawl before he walks. It’s part of the process. He’s just understand how his body works.”

Sure, the Royals are working with Mozzicato to stay lower through his delivery, trying to eliminate a minor hesitation in his windup, even trying to correct the slight variation in his motions between fastballs and curveballs. But this is not a deconstruction/reconstruction project. This is fine-tuning, basic additions. They want him to build confidence as much as anything else for now.

Mozzicato, who made his professional debut May 18 with three scoreless innings against Myrtle Beach, is now throwing change-ups, usually in the low 80’s, to form the three-pitch mix he’ll need for the rest of his career. He threw exactly one change-up all of his senior year at East Catholic — and Weston’s Chris Amato hit it for a single in a Class M quarterfinal, breaking up Mozzicato’s hitless streak of 30 1/3 innings.

His fastball, which touched 93 MPH Sunday, has good “vert,” about 22 inches, Mozzicato said. It is most effective up and in.

“It plays like 96-97,” Mozzicato said of his fastball, explaining vert. “It looks like it’s riding up on you and looks harder than it actually is. Especially with these guys, because they all have long swings and they drop their barrel to get to low and away pitches. So on film, I’ll look at that. Their hole is in on their hands. So when you throw to their hole it, usually they’re late and they pop out.

“But you start to realize that velo doesn't really matter. In Augusta last week, we faced a kid who threw 96-99 and touched 100. We scored two or three runs off him. Then we were in Lynchburg and we faced a lefty who was 86-88 and we couldn't touch him. Location, stuff, changing speeds, pitch ability, it all factors in.”

Josue Huma of the Pelicans pulled a fastball for a double to left field in the third inning Sunday, stole third and scored on a throwing error by Hernandez. Mozzicato walked Juan Mora, bringing the first mound visit of the game, and responded by getting Made to hit into a 6-4-3 double play on his 53rd pitch.

He walked the first batter of the fourth inning and struck out the next batter, swinging. He was at 61 pitches, and 67 after the next batter, another walk. Pena came out for a visit, only to give Mozzicato a rest.

“Just giving you a breath,” Pena told him. “Get ahead of this guy. Let’s go.”

Mozzicato induced a weak pop-up to shallow right on the next pitch. The ball was dropped by the right fielder, but a force out was easily made at second base for the second out. Mozzicato was one out away from pitching through four innings for just the second time.

That did not happen.

He noticed Pena in the dugout, going back and forth in conversation with Jason Simontacchi, a Royals pitching coordinator. Pena then came back out to the mound and took the ball from Mozzicato.

“They could tell I was upset,” said Mozzicato, who matched a season high with 68 pitches, with 37 strikes.

Mozzicato was told, repeatedly, by Simontacchi that pulling him at that point was “the safest option.” Mozzicato can appreciate the general approach. That didn’t make the situation much easier to deal with.

“I was like, what is the point of coming to take a mound visit and then throwing one pitch and getting an out?” Mozzicato said. “He goes, ‘Say you get the out and the next batters gets seven pitches. Now you’re at 75.’ Still, it didn’t make sense to me. Say the kid I got out in one pitch, say that was an eight-pitch at-bat. You going to take me out midway through that at-bat? I was like, ‘I don’t really have my stuff right now, but I’m battling, I’m fighting, let me get through it.”

That’s what this whole process is about, really, getting through it, which means all sorts of starts and stops along the way, lessons large and small, gains through setbacks, even clarity through confusion. The Fireflies lost, 7-3, and Mozzicato went home and played cards well past midnight with his roommates and a few other teammates, more downtime in the monotonous grind.

“This is minor league life,” he said. “I miss my friends and my family, but I don’t really miss home.”