Myers Relishes WVU’s Unconventional Pitching Move
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — WVU head baseball coach Randy Mazey is unconventional, to say the least. From aggressive bunting that targets weak fielders to switches and decisions that flout conservative baseball standards, the sixth-year Mountaineer head coach isn’t afraid to try anything to get a win. Thus, when pitcher BJ Myers was listed as the starter in the team’s game notes for both Thursday’s and Saturday’s contests against Baylor, it wasn’t immediately dismissed as a mistake.
That view was confirmed when Myers, after completing the third inning against the Bears on Thursday evening, headed for the Mountaineer clubhouse, instead of his usual spot midway along the WVU bench in the dugout. In the top of the fourth, closer Alek Manoah took the hill, pitching two innings before making way for Tristen Hudson. It was all part of a plan, one that was made in response to West Virginia’s pitching inconsistency this year. Mazey, along with pitching coach Dave Serrano, came up with the design in response to the team’s inability to get starters deep into the game, and with the struggles to find three consistent weekend starters. Rather than again cast about for that third pitcher, Mazey decided to go with just two. Myers would be limited to three innings on Friday, followed by Manoah for two. After that would come Hudson, then Shane Kessler and Braden Zarbnisky. Each met the challenge, keeping the Bears off balance.
Also in the mix was Tristen Hudson, one a a group of self-annointed “firemen” who would appear if any of the four tabbed pitchers needed help. Following a trip to a local sub chain that features a firefighter motif, the group sported fire helmets in the bullpen, according to Mazey, and stood ready to bolster the first four. Tristen Hudson did just that, getting a huge out in relief of Shane Kessler to end a Baylor scoring threat in the seventh — a four-pitch outing that ended up earning him the win in the contest.
The move countered the conventional approach employed by the Bears, who saw Cody Bradford give the kind of starting performance Mazey craves. Bradford went seven full innings (only two Mountaineer starters have gone as deep in a game this year), and gave up just two runs (one earned) while striking out five and popping up the same number. Yet, in the strange results that often surface in the game, it was the West Virginia committee work that won the day.
Like all of Mazey’s moves, there is logic underneath. WVU will put its best pitchers out twice on the weekend, and opposing hitters won’t get to see them more than twice before a new pitcher, with a new style, appears in the game. Myers, working with his different arm slots and lower velocities, was followed by fireballer Manoah, who then gave way to pitchers with more movement on the ball. Zarbnisky then closed out the game with a succession of fastballs. Also key to the success was stellar control. WVU pitchers fired 88 strikes in 126 pitches, and did not walk a batter.
Myers, who has seen a lot in his Mountaineer career, will experience something new when he again gets the ball to start the game in Saturday’s season finale.
“As a starter I have never thrown twice on the weekend, but we may be on to something,” he said. “We were joking about it in the locker room. We had a starter, then four closers. I know I have a shorter game, and I don’t have to pace anything. I can attack every pitch. I can approach it with a closer mentality.”
Myers heard about the potential for the new system earlier in the week, and it intrigued him.
“Coach Serrano told me about it on Tuesday, or maybe it was Monday. ‘Here’s what we might do, so be ready for it.’ I thought ‘I get to pitch on senior day, and I get to pitch twice on the weekend.’ I was interested. The future coach in me is interested in how it played out, and it worked to perfection tonight. We might be on to something here.”
If the results in Saturday’s game are good, expect WVU to continue with some form of this rotation again in next week’s Big 12 Championship. While Mazey joked “it only took us 49 games to figure it out, not 50”, the important factor is that the Mountaineers have some success to build upon for the final two regular season games and in Oklahoma City, site of the league’s postseason. If, as Myers said, West Virginia is on to something, it would be just another example of Mazey and his outside the box thinking resulting in success.