Nelfi Zapata’s Sunday night homer was a major deal for the minor-leaguer.
The 20-year-old Dominican catcher sent a changeup from Yankee hurler Phil Hughes smashing into the scoreboard in left field — his first homer of the year and something that his Cyclones teammates are still talking about.
The Yankee all-star made a rehab start with the Staten Island Yankees on Sunday — and dominated the punchless Clones, striking out seven in just 4-1/3 innings, keeping the minor leaguers off balance with a mix of breaking balls and a 93-mile-per-hour fastball.
But there’s one pitch he wants back — the fated off-speed delivery to Zapata, who told us that he was expecting a fastball.
But the catcher made a quick adjustment on the 1-0 pitch, which Hughes left out over the plate.
Zapata turned on it, cutting the Yankee lead in half and sending Hughes — who had just made his 61st pitch in what was supposed to be a 60-pitch outing — to the less-than-luxurious MCU Park showers.
Later, the veteran complemented the rookie.
“Both at-bats he was taking good swings, he seemed like a pretty good hitter,” Hughes told the Daily News.
Zapata’s homer kickstarted his teammates, who scored four runs in the next two innings and cruised to a 5–3 win.
Zapata was still feeling the buzz two days later.
“It feels great, hitting off a major leaguer,” he said during warm-ups before Wednesday’s home win against the Aberdeen Ironbirds.
To other Cyclones, it was no big thing.
“He really was like any other pitcher,” said Chase Green, who struck out in his lone plate appearance against Hughes.
When pressed, Green did acknowledge Hughes’s dominance.
“He had a fastball, sure, but his off-speed pitch was better than most guys [down in the minors] because he could get it over consistently,” Green said.
Zapata is currently batting .250. Last year at Kingsport, he batted .247 with two homeruns and 20 RBIs.