Zafra stronger as season reaches end

Almost every player on the Minot Vistas American Legion baseball team was born and raised in North Dakota.

That’s not the case for Vistas pitcher Demitry Zafra, who grew up in Naples, Florida, before moving to the Magic City last year. Zafra enrolled at Minot High in January 2013 and spent the last two years with both the Magicians and Vistas.

Zafra’s mother, Maria, relocated to Minot in January 2012 when she became the operations manager at the city’s La Quinta Inn & Suites. Demitry remained in Naples for the rest of the year before moving to Minot to live with his mother in December 2012.

In his two years here, Zafra has grown accustomed to pitching against the best high school athletes North Dakota has to offer. He has four pitches in his arsenal fastball, changeup, two-seam fastball and curveball. Zafra said he has the most confidence in his changeup, although his fastball has hit the upper 80s on the radar gun.

Zafra is 1-4 with one save this season, but his record is misleading, Minot coach Todd Larson said.

“He always seems to get the tough draw of going against the other team’s ace,” he said. “He pitched well against Bismarck and against Forest Lake (Minn.) in recent starts. He’s not afraid to take the ball in a big game.”

Zafra had a rough start to the season, losing his first two starts and surrendering 19 runs in 6 2/3 innings. His ERA ballooned to 9.13, but it’s been more than halved in his past five appearances on the hill. In 39 innings pitched, Zafra’s ERA has dropped to 4.49.

Zafra said his biggest strength as a pitcher is his stamina. Unlike most pitchers, Zafra seems to get stronger as games progress. It’s allowed him to go deep into games and alleviate pressure on the bullpen. Zafra’s pitched seven or more innings three times this season. He went seven innings against Regina (Sask.) in his lone win, allowing six runs on eight hits, striking out three.

“Sometimes he doesn’t get a complete bullpen session in before a game and it takes him an inning to get completely locked in,” Larson said. “As the game progresses, he gets better. If we can fix that hiccup early in games, he’s going to have some success here at the end.”

Said Zafra: “The first couple innings I get kind of nervous. I try to do too much, but then as the game goes on I settle in and I start getting things going where I want them to be.”

After issuing 16 walks in his first four appearances, Zafra has found his control, allowing just five free passes in his last four outings. He’s struck out 21 batters in his last four appearances.

Larson said Zafra will continue in the starting role during the early stages of the state tournament, but could see time as a reliever if the Vistas make a run.

Zafra’s baseball career is far from over as he will play collegiately at Southwest Minnesota State beginning in 2015. He signed with the Mustangs in mid-May and is expected to redshirt his freshman year before seeing playing time in 2016.

“I had a lot of teams talking to me but (SMSU) really jumped out at me,” Zafra said. “It felt like I was at home when I visited their campus. I love that place and I love it every time I go back.”

Zafra still has roughly a week left in his Legion career and he’s hoping to go out on a high note.

“The first step right now is to beat Dickinson on Friday,” Zafra said. “We really want to win it all at state. I know we can.”

Mike Kraft covers the Minot Vistas and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft24_MDN.