As Zach Penrod entered the 2023 season, his third year pitching in the independent Pioneer League, he made the decision: It would be his final season, so he might as well give it everything he had.

“Then I got the call in August, and everything changed,” Penrod said.

The call was from the Boston Red Sox, who were ready to sign the 6-foot-2, 210-pound left-hander away from the Missoula (Montana) PaddleHeads and send him to their High-A affiliate in Greenville, South Carolina. From there, Penrod went to the Arizona Fall League, where he found more success pitching against some of the top prospects in baseball.

“More than anything, (the Arizona Fall League) was a confidence booster, knowing that I could compete against those prospects. It reminded myself of what kind of pitcher I am,” Penrod said.

Now in the starting rotation for Boston’s Double-A club – the Portland Sea Dogs – Penrod keeps proving that he belongs.

Thursday’s 3-0 win over the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in front of 4,615 fans at Hadlock Field was Penrod’s second start for the Sea Dogs, and a second strong outing. In 5 1/3 innings, the 26-year-old lefty allowed just one hit with six strikeouts and three walks while allowing no runs. He has pitched 10 1/3 scoreless innings to start the season, with just three hits allowed and 14 strikeouts.


Zach Penrod has yet to allow a run in his first two starts for the Portland Sea Dogs and has given up only three hits in 10 1/3 innings. Photo provided by Portland Sea Dogs

Penrod didn’t factor into the decision Thursday, but he kept the Sea Dogs in the game until Matthew Lugo broke the scoreless deadlock with an RBI double down the left-field line in the seventh. Portland added two more runs in the eighth.

“He’s exciting to watch. This is the second time I’ve seen him, and both times have obviously been pretty good,” Portland Manager Chad Epperson said. “The fastball, you can’t deny it when it runs up there at 97 today. You’ve got to give it up for 97. Then he throws that changeup and slider. There’s a lot of weapons there.”

The only hit Penrod surrendered was to Fisher Cats leadoff hitter Alan Roden with one out in the top of the sixth inning. At 85 pitches, that was the final hitter Penrod faced. Going into the sixth, he knew he had a no hitter going.

“I wanted it really bad. I went out there for the sixth and wanted to just keep doing what I was doing, get early contact to see if I could go deeper (into the game),” Penrod said.

Penrod said he wasn’t sure how long he would’ve been allowed to chase the no hitter. Epperson was clear.

“He would’ve been done in the sixth,” Epperson said. “We weren’t going to let him go much more than six. He earned the right to go out in the sixth.”


A native of Nampa, Idaho, Penrod was originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Northwest Nazarene University by the Texas Rangers in 2018. Penrod had Tommy John surgery to repair his left elbow in 2019, and was released by the Rangers in 2020 as Major League Baseball cut back on the number of affiliated minor league franchises.

Penrod pitched for the better part of three seasons in the Pioneer League with the Boise Hawks and Billings Mustangs before landing in Missoula last season. He caught the eye of the Red Sox by striking out 65 in 54 1/3 innings for Missoula.

“I wasn’t able to stay healthy those first couple years of indy ball,” Penrod said. “Then after that, I was just looking to have one healthy year and see what happens.”

Brian Abraham, Boston’s director of player development, was on hand Thursday to watch Penrod’s start.

“You saw a guy who has the ability to get guys out in the strike zone when he’s there. He has size, power, athleticism,” Abraham said. “He’s willing to make adjustments, to challenge himself, to do things differently than he’s done in the past. Now he’s continuing to be consistent in the strike zone. He throwing strikes, that’s the most important thing.”

Penrod calls his fastball his best pitch, and he also throws a slider and changeup, the pitch he’ll throw when he wants a swing and miss. His focus is on staying consistent.

“I’ve had a really good couple of starts, but I think (I’m) getting better with my command and getting a feel putting the ball where I want to put it. I’ve successfully done that the first two (starts), so just keeping it rolling,” Penrod said.

Epperson is pleased to see Penrod making the most of this opportunity.

“I’m sure there’s many stories out there like this. There’s guys out there in independent ball right now, and that’s why they play,” Epperson said. “To continue to chase their dream. We were fortunate to pounce on Zach.”

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