Tag Archives: Change-up

Ball State’s McDermott makes meaningful changes

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chayce McDermott has transformed since arriving at Ball State University three years ago.

The right-handed baseball pitcher arrived in Muncie, Ind., as a skinny freshman, carrying about 165 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. 

“I’ve put on about 30 pounds since I’ve been here,” says McDermott, who turned 22 Aug. 22. “I’m eating healthier and I’m lifting up to twice a day.”

McDermott says he was more of a thrower than a pitcher before college.

A redshirt junior in 2020-21, McDermott is now a solid 195 or 200 and has learned how to refine his deliveries in an attempt to get hitters out.

“I’m more confident (on the mound),” says McDermott. “I understand how to pitch.

“As time’s gone out I’ve thrown a little harder and have a better understanding of my pitches.”

A 2017 graduate of Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School, where he earned three baseball letters for head coach Travis Keesling, McDermott was a two-time all-Hoosier Heritage Conference selection. 

In his senior year, he went 5-3 with a 2.29 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 49 innings for a team that went 19-6.

Nursing an injury, McDermott redshirted in 2018 — his first year with the BSU Cardinals.

The righty appeared in 10 games (nine starts) as a redshirt freshman in 2019 and went 4-1 with a 3.64 earned run average. In 42 innings, he struck out out 54, walked 26 and held opponents to a .228 batting average. 

In the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, McDermott made three appearances as the “Sunday” starter and went 0-1 with a 5.02 ERA. In 14 1/3 innings, he struck out 20, walked six and yielded a .192 opponent batting mark. He fanned 11 in six no-hit innings in a win against the University of Richmond on March 7.

McDermott was brought to Ball State by head coach Rich Maloney and has worked with two pitching coaches. Larry Scully has led that group since August 2019. Before that is was Dustin Glant.

The 2020 season was Maloney’s 26th in coaching and 16th at Ball State. 

“It’s amazing,” says McDermott of playing for Maloney. “He always has our back no batter what.

“He knows great people in the game. It’s truly a blessing to get his insight.”

Scully has been coaching baseball for 27 years.

“He’s taught me how to work with pitches a little bit more,” says McDermott of Scully. “He’s helped me a lot with curve, slider and change-up, where to throw a pitch and how to think in different counts.

“He’s helped me understand the game a lot better and adjust on pitches as the game goes on.”

Scully has helped McDermott find the strike zone on a more consistent basis.

“My control is constantly improving,” says McDermott. “It’s come along as I worked on things with my delivery and strength.”

Glant, who is now a minor league pitching coach in the New York Yankees organization, is credited for shaping McDermott’s mound tenacity

“Coach Glant was super intense and energetic,” says McDermott. “He taught me how to be tough — kind of cocky, but in a controlled way.

“He helped me with my velocity when I got here and keeping my arm shorter.”

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, McDermott uses a four-seam fastball that sat around 91 to 94 mph and topped out at 96 during the spring and summer.

“I try to keep the spin rate up so it spins over the top of bats,” says McDermott of his four-seamer. “That way I get more swings and misses.”

Deception is the idea behind his “circle” change-up.

McDermott employs an 11-to-5 curveball.

“It’s not straight up and down,” says McDermott. “It has a little bit of side-run to it (going into left-handed hitters and away from righties). I want to get as much movement on it as possible.”

The slider is a “work-in-progress” that McDermott plans to mix in during fall workouts. When thrown the way he wants, the pitch has downward break and runs in on lefty batters.

When the pandemic hit, McDermott had not yet nailed down where he might play in the summer. He wound up being able to commute from Anderson, Ind., and pitched as a starter and reliever for the Local Legends in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He racked up 33 strikeouts and 10 walks in 14 innings while holding foes to one runs on four hits.

That squad was coached by Butler assistants Ben Norton and Jake Ratz and featured McDermott’s friend and former youth and travel ball teammate Joe Moran.

“I really enjoyed (the Grand Park league),” says McDermott. “It was close to home and had great players in it. It was good to play with guys I knew from high school and meet new guys from around the Indiana baseball scene.”

It was the first summer McDermott has pitched since 2016. He stayed at home and worked the past two summers and went to Ball State early to begin adding muscle in the summer of 2017.

McDermott is on schedule to earn a Psychology degree from Ball State in the spring. He chose the major because he sees it as pair well with his career choice.

“I just want to be a coach and stay around baseball as long as possible,” says McDermott. “Understanding the minds of people will help.”

Born and raised on the north side of Anderson, McDermott played at Riverfield Little League until he was 13.

He played travel ball of two years with the Justin Wittenberg-coached Magic City Orioles and one with Sam Wilkerson’s Indiana Raiders before spending his 17U summer with the Sean Laird-coached Indiana Bulls.

“Coach Laird is enthusiastic and aggressive about everything,” says McDermott. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a coach that was as pumped about games as he was.”

Chayce is the youngest of Mike and Kim McDermott’s two sons. Mike McDermott is a UPS driver. Kim McDermott is a lawyer’s assistant. 

Brother Sean McDermott (23) played basketball at Pendleton Heights and appeared in 125 games (79 as a starter) at Butler University. The 6-foot-6, 195-pounder is currently exploring professional hoops opportunities.

Ball State University’s Chayce McDermott pitches in the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park. (D1Baseball.com Video)
Chayce McDermott was born and raised in Anderson, Ind., and played at Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School before Ball State University. He is a redshirt junior for the Cardinals in 2020-21. (Mike Janes/Ball State University Photo)
Chayce McDermott has made 13 mound appearances for the Ball State University baseball team in 2019 and 2020. He also pitched in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2020. (Mike Janes/Ball State University Photo)
Chayce McDermott is heading into his third baseball season at Ball State University in 2020-21. The right-hander is a 2017 Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School graduate. (Ball State University Photo)

Right-hander Moran sets baseball goals high

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Moran is looking to raise his baseball stock.

Moran, a right-handed pitcher who also swings a potent bat, impressed enough during his time at Anderson (Ind.) University that he became the first player in the NCAA Division III Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference to be invited to play in the prestigious Cape Cod League

He would have suited up with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox this summer. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused cancellation on the Cape and Moran wound up with the Local Legends in the newly-formed College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Taking the play-and-train option, he also works out at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park.

His Business Management degree (focused on organizational management) completed in the spring, Academic All-American Moran decided about a month ago that he would continue his baseball and academic development at NAIA-affiliated Taylor University in Upland, Ind. 

It was not an easy decision. Moran considers Anderson head coach Matt Bair a mentor — on and off the field — and has regular contact with him.

“As a man, I’ve developed so much because of his leadership and all the other coaches,” says Moran. “My sophomore year, I was soft. I hadn’t developed that bulldog mentality. 

“Coach Bair drew that out of me. He helped me compete and make myself better. He never gave me any guarantees. It helped me. I needed something to work for every single day.

“My faith is really an important part of what I am. It’s a relationship I’ll always be grateful for.”

Moran says he plans to enroll at Taylor soon and pursue a masters degree, likely in Transition-to-Teaching while working with the Trojans baseball staff, including head coach Kyle Gould and pitching coach Justin Barber, who was with the Indiana Chargers prior to his current position.

In the first 48 hours of entering the transfer portal, Moran received 13 to 15 offers.

“It was kind of overwhelming,” says Moran. “I turned down a lot of Division I offers.”

Coming out of high school, his outlook was D-I or bust. But that has changed.

“It’s not about where you play, it’s how good you are as a player,” says Moran. “How are you going to help me develop and get drafted? When I sat down with coaches from Taylor I was legitimately blown away. They had a development plan laid out for me.

“I’m 6-foot and a right-handed pitcher. Nothing sticks out about me. My stuff has to be really good to get to the next level.”

Moran mixes a fastball, change-up, slider and curveball.

This summer, his four-seam fastball has been up to 94.5 mph. He is regularly in the low- to mid-90s.

“It has a little bit of a riding action — into a righty (batter) and away from a lefty,” says Moran. 

He is aiming for a high spin rate.

“I want to spin it enough so I can throw it higher in the zone,” says Moran.

It’s a “circle” change and a “gyro” slider than Moran employs.

“It has a late break when it’s on,” says Moran of the slider. “There’s a lot of depth to it when it’s good.

“The curve is 2-to-7 (on the clock face). I spin the curve 2300 to 2400 rpm.”

The curve tends to come in at around 73 mph with the slider around 80.

Moran, a 2016 graduate of Anderson High School, was playing in the summer after high school when he felt tightness in his elbow. 

He went to Dr. Timothy Kremchek, who is also the Cincinnati Reds team doctor, for Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) injections and resumed throwing and playing at Anderson U. in the fall.

Moran wound up having Tommy John reconstructive surgery and was not even on the Ravens roster in 2017. 

“It took about 14 months until I was able to go live in game,” says Moran. “It was two years after my surgery until I was feeling good again and not worrying about elbow soreness or stiffness.”

Making his collegiate debut in 2018, Moran got into 11 games as a pitcher (nine starts) and went 5-2 with a 3.75 earned run average. In 48 innings, he struck out 49 and walked 26.

As a right-handed hitter in 44 games, Moran amassed a .311 average (46-of-148) with three home runs, 33 runs batted in and 25 runs scored.

In 2019, all 11 of Moran’s AU mound appearance were starts. He went 7-1 with one complete game, a 3.20 ERA, 66 strikeouts and 28 walks in 59 innings.

Offensively, his 2019 produced a .362 average (46-of-127) with five homers, 25 RBIs and 27 runs in 37 games.

The pandemic shorted the 2020 season to four games on the mound (all starts). The righty went 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA, 32 strikeouts and seven walks in 20 innings. He averaged 14.4 K’s per nine innings.

At the bat, Moran blazed at a clip of .563 (18-of-32) with one homer, five RBIs, 10 runs and a .667 on-base percentage in nine contests. He was a designated hitter when not pitching. 

While he concentrates on pitching during the summer and knows that is where his future lies, Morgan welcome the opportunity to hit at Taylor.

Born and raised in Anderson by Mike and Stephanie Moran, Joe began playing baseball at 5 at Riverfield Little League. During his 11-year-old summer, his team won a state title and had high hopes of the Little League World Series run the next summer, but the team was dismantled.

One of his teammates was Chayce McDermott. The Ball State University pitcher also plays on the Grand Park league’s Local Legends, coached by Butler University assistants Ben Norton and Jake Ratz.

Moran played travel baseball with the Muncie-based Magic City Orioles then, during high school, the Indiana Prospects. His 18U summer was spent with the Northern Indiana Elite.

At Anderson High, Moran played the first three seasons for Terry Turner and the last for Adrian Heim.

“He’s one of the best men that I know,” says Moran of Turner. “I genuinely mean that. He cared so much about the program and he put his all into it. He loved me from the jump.

“I wish I would’ve had more time with (Heim). He’s knowledgable about the game.”

Moran missed the 2017 summer season because of surgery and spent 2018 grinding it out int he weight room. In 2019, he went to Ontario to play with the Northwoods League’s Thunder Bay Border Cats.

Mike Moran is a grain farmer who tends about 2,000 acres. Stephanie Moran works in Engagement and Adult Studies at Anderson U. The couple have three children — Bobby (26), Joe (22) and Megan (20). AU graduate Bobby played golf and tennis at Anderson High. AU student Megan played volleyball and softball with the Anderson Indians.

Joe Moran shined with the bat at Anderson (Ind.) University. In the COVID-19-shortned 2020 season, he hit .563. (Ali Zoller/Anderson University Photo)
Joe Moran excelled on the mound for the Anderson (Ind.) University Ravens, winning 14 games and striking out 147 batters from 2018-20. (Ali Zoller/Anderson University Photo)
Joe Moran, a graduate of Anderson (Ind.) High School and Anderson (Ind.) University, is playing in the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He plans to attend graduate school and play at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., in 2020-21. (Anderson University Photo)

Southpaw Samuelson keeps racking up K’s as Braves minor leaguer

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Samuelson has long had a knack for strikeouts.

Since he began pitching baseballs as a young boy living in LaPorte, Ind., and playing in the KVA youth league, the left-hander has been racking up K’s.

“I’ve missed bats my whole life,” says Samuelson, a 21-year-old who is now in the Atlanta Braves organization. “With my delivery, I hide the ball very well. It stays behind my body.”

Selected in the 12th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by Atlanta out of Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill., Samuelson made eight appearances (all in relief) with the Gulf Coast Braves last summer, going 1-1 with one save and a 6.39 earned run average. In 12 2/3 innings, he struck out 21 and walked six in a season cut short by Hurricane Dorian. That’s a rate of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

The lefty played two seasons for National Junior College Athletic Association Division I powerhouse Wabash Valley, where Rob Fournier is head coach and Aaron Biddle the pitching coach/associate head coach.

In the spring of 2019, Samuelson was 1-0 with two saves and a 2.93. He got into 16 games (all in relief). In 15 1/3 innings, he fanned 29 and walked 13 for the 55-4 Warriors. That’s 16.6 K’s per nine innings.

As a freshman in 2018, Samuelson made 11 mound appearances (all in relief) and went 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA. He fanned 17 and walked seven in 9 1/3 innings as the WVC Warriors went 45-11-1. His K-per nine rate was 16.3.

Samuelson is a 2017 graduate of LaPorte High School. In his senior season with the Slicers he went 4-4 with one save and a 1.69 ERA. Playing for head coach Scott Upp and pitching coach Jeff DeMass, he whiffed 67 and walked 20 in 45 2/3 innings. That’s 10.2 strikeouts per seven innings.

“I had a lot of fun playing high school baseball for the Slicers,” says Samuelson. “Coach Upp (an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) is perfect mix of intense and making sure you have fun.

“He’s a really good coach. He knows what he’s doing.”

Samuelson played two years on the junior varsity and two years on varsity. At the start, he resisted developing a compliment to his fastball and curveball.

“When I was younger I refused to throw a change-up,” says Samuelson. “Coach DeMass is the only reason I have any semblance of a change-up at all.”

To this day, Samuelson uses his “circle” change sparingly. His “out” pitch is his curve. 

“It got me on the radar of college coaches and pro scouts,” says Samuelson of his bender. “It’s more of a sweeper, moving 10-to-4 or 10-to-5. It’s been my bread-and-butter pitch since I’ve been a pitcher. 

“There are games I might have thrown it more than my fastball.”

A four-seam fastball with natural movement comes out of the hand of the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder.

“There are days when my fastball runs arm-side a lot,” says Samuelson. “I don’t know why.”

Samuelson never hit 90 mph on the radar gun his freshmen year at Wabash Valley. But after a year of daily long toss and plenty of weight lifting, he was hitting that mark consistently as a sophomore.

“Playing at Wabash was quite an experience,” says Samuelson. “They’re so focused on getting better and winning games. Everyday we did something. There were no days off. It was an absolute grind.”

Samuelson calls Fournier one of the most intense coaches he’s ever seen.

“He got upset if we didn’t play up to our potential,” says Samuelson. “We were so talented. I’d put us up against a lot of (NCAA) Division I college teams. A lot of players turned down the (MLB) Draft or went to very good Division I programs. The talent level just pushes you to be better.”

Samuelson credits Biddle for tweaking his mechanics, but also instilling confidence.

“He was a big mindset guy,” says Samuelson of Biddle. “It takes a lot of mental fortitude to be a good pitcher.”

Samuelson, who earned an Arts, Media & Science associate degree at Wabash Valley, was headed to Division I baseball after his junior college experience, but opted to go pro instead.

“It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made,” says Samuelson. “I was very close to going to North Carolina State. But I’ve always wanted to play professional baseball.”

Since being drafted, Major League Baseball has been talking about shrinking the minors and cut the draft from 40 to five rounds in 2020.

“Looking back, I’m very glad I did what I did,” says Samuelson.

The summer between his freshmen and sophomore collegiate seasons, the southpaw was with the Ohio Valley League’s Henderson (Ky.) Flash. Adam Hines was the head coach and Brandon Mattingly the pitching coach.

“(Mattingly) helped me a lot with straight mechanical stuff,” says Samuelson. “Like using my lower half and staying on-plane.”

After he spent a summer with the LaPorte Titans, Samuelson’s junior high and high school travel ball seasons were spent with the Scott Ellrich-coached Indiana Breakers.

“I credit him for a lot of the pitching I’ve learned,” says Samuelson, who still regularly converses with Ellrich.

Samuelson was at 2020 Braves spring training less than two weeks when it was shut down because of COVID-19 and he returned to LaPorte.

He had been working out since fall — lifting weights at the LaPorte County Family YMCA and throwing at at facility own by the Land family (LPHS Class of 2023’s Jackson Land was often his catcher).

He also worked as a substitute teacher at LaPorte Middle School.

During and after quarantine, Samuelson stayed in game shape. Recently, he found out there will be no Minor League Baseball season in 2020 and cut back on the intensity.

It was ferocity that helped Samuelson and his teammates to basketball success while playing for Tom Wells at LaPorte High.

“We were never the most athletic kids with the most skills,” says Samuelson. “Basketball was not our first sport. The other four starters were football players.

“(Wells) instill straight toughness. We played grittier and tougher than anybody else, that’s why we won a lot of games.”

Andy is the oldest of Greg and Becky Samuelson’s three children. Greg Samuelson is a seventh grade science teacher at LaPorte Middle School. Becky Samuelson is a sixth grade math teacher at Kesling Intermediate School). 

Emily Samuelson, who played softball at LPHS, just finished her freshman year at Purdue University where she is studying nursing. Tommy Samuelson was a LaPorte freshman in 2019-20, playing baseball and baseball.

“He’s already as tall as me,” says Andy of Tommy. “He has a chance to be better than I ever was.”

Andy Samuelson, a graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School and Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill., signs with the Atlanta Braves in 2019. He played with the Gulf Coast Braves in his first professional baseball season. The 2020 Minor League Baseball campaign was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Former McCutcheon, Purdue hurler Wittgren finds his groove in Cleveland bullpen

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A change of baseball addresses meant a change in change-up approach for Nick Wittgren.

The 6-foot-3 right-handed reliever was traded from the Miami Marlins to the Cleveland Indians in February 2019.

The Tribe made a request of the former Purdue University closer and three-sport standout at McCutcheon High School — also in West Lafayette, Ind.

“When I got to Cleveland they told me my change-up plays pretty well and to throw it more to right-handers than I did in the past,” says Wittgren, who recorded a career-high 12 holds in 55 appearances and 57 2/3 relief innings. His 2.81 earned run average was 19th-lowest among American League relievers. “Roberto Perez was behind the plate and loved calling it.

“I almost felt like I threw my change-up more than I did my slider.”

Close.

According to Statcast data, Wittgren’s pitch arsenal included four pitches in 2019. He threw his four-seamer 66.4 percent of the time, slider 18.8, change-up 14.7 and curve 0.1.

“I was in my groove last year,” says Wittgren, who turns 29 on May 29. “I had my head where I needed it.”

With Miami in 2018, Statcast actually has Wittgren with a higher percentage of change-ups (15.7) as compared to sliders (12.8). Besides the four-seamer (62.7), there was also the sinker (7.5) and cutter (1.3).

With all the movement, Wittgren refers to his pitch repertoire as fastball, change-up and breaking ball.

Wittgren pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle. He throws across his body with his glove flaring out and whips around to deliver the baseball.

“I don’t know when I started,” says Wittgren of his mechanics. “In college I did it. It just works for me. I get the most force toward home. It’s really tough to pick up the baseball.

“To a righty I’m started with my arm behind them. It works in my favor.”

Wittgren favors sliders and four-seamers in on the hands with change-ups down and away.

“I started manipulated that pitch a little more last year,” says Wittgren of the change-up.

Indians pitching coach Carl Willis, assistant pitching coach Ruben Niebla and bullpen coach Brian Sweeney will often remind Wittgren to use that pitch.

With Cleveland, he occasionally got a chance to deliver that pitch and others to a familiar target.

Kevin Plawecki, a college teammate, was a back-up catcher with the Indians in 2019 (the Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox in January).

“It was kind of cool taking it back to the good old Purdue says,” says Wittgren. “We still clicked.

“I didn’t have the change-up in college. I didn’t need it.”

Wittgren played shortstop and pitched at McCutcheon for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

As a Mavericks senior, Wittgren was an MVP in tennis in the fall and earned the same recognition for basketball in the winter.

Following brother Kyle’s lead, Nick took up tennis as a freshman.

“It was a good way to stay active for basketball and baseball,” says Wittgren. “It helped with footwork and conditioning and hand-eye (coordination).”

Rick Peckinpaugh was Wittgren’s head basketball coach.

“(Peckinpaugh) brought the most energy and talent out in you,” says Wittgren. “We had a group that played together really well. He was there for every single person, trying to get us better.

“It was a pleasure and a joy playing for him.”

With no college baseball offers coming in, he was thinking about bypassing his senior year on the diamond and focusing on basketball.

“I was just looking for a way to pay for college,” says Wittgren. “I was not looking at the whole picture.”

Wittgren had his sights on teaching math and coaching — either at the high school or college level.

“My mom (Lisa) is a (fourth grade) teacher,” says Wittgren. “I love kids. I love numbers.”

Burton let Wittgren know that he had baseball potential past high school.

He said, ‘you have something special, don’t waste it,’” says Wittgren of Burton’s advice.

Besides that, Burton emphasized that Wittgren was part of a large senior class and he owed it to the guys he’d been playing with since sixth grade to finish high school strong (born in Torrance, Calif., and raised in Long Beach and Cypress, Nick moved to Indiana as a sixth grader; father Andy lives in San Juan Capistrano; Nick’s other brother is Jack).

“If Jake didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be here,” says Wittgren. “He saw something in me.”

A few days ago, the player and his former coach connected via FaceTime and Burton got to see Nick and Ashley Wittgren’s 14-month old son Jackson.

At McCutcheon, shortstop/pitcher Wittgren’s velocity topped out around 85 mph for most of the his senior season.

“I never took reps off in high school,” says Wittgren. “I need to do this to get better.”

His arm was tired from the workload.

With a few days off prior to sectional, Wittgren was touching 90.

Wittgren pitched in the Colt World Series in Lafayette and was scouted by McCutcheon graduate Matt Kennedy, then head coach at Parkland College. He got Wittgren to come to the junior college power in Champaign, Ill.

Seeing that the Cobras were in need of a Sunday starter, Wittgren pitched an idea to Kennedy.

He wanted to only pitch.

Wittgren recalls the response of the man he calls “KY.”

“He said that might be one of the best decisions you ever make,” says Wittgren a decade later. “I brought you in as a pitcher. I wanted you to figure it out.”

The lanky right-hander went 10-0 with 54 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings for a Parkland that placed fifth in the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series.

In the fall of his sophomore year at Purdue, Wittgren had an ulnar nerve transfer.

Boilermakers head coach Doug Schreiber wanted him to be the team’s closer in the spring of 2011.

“Whatever puts me out on that field is what I want to do,” says Wittgren, who finished 24 games and appeared in 29 with a Big Ten Conference-leading 12 saves to go with 55 strikeouts in 51 innings.

Schreiber (who later was head coach at McCutcheon and is now head coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) and assistants Ryan Sawyers and Tristan McIntyre (now head coach at McCutcheon) implored him to “trust your stuff and pound the strike zone.”

“They got me to throw certain pitches in certain counts,” says Wittgren.

He could change the batter’s eye level with fastballs up and sliders down. If he  pitched up and in, hitters would not be able to extend their arms.

Wittgren was named second-team all-conference and then went to play for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks that summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Schreiber asked Wittgren to be a closer again in 2012.

He pitched in 26 games, finishing off 25 and racked up 10 saves, setting a new Purdue all-time high with 22. He fanned 39 batters in 41 innings and was named third-team all-Big Ten. His two-year earned run average for the Boilers was 2.54.

Wittgren selected in the ninth round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Marlins and made his major league debut for Miami in 2016.

On the Cape is where Wittgren first met Ashley Crosby. She was part of the media department for the elite summer circuit.

A few years later, strength trainer Ashley did an internship with Cressy Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and she began dating Nick, who was training in south Florida with the Marlins. The relationship blossomed. The married couple now lives near Miami.

During the COVID-19 quarantine, Wittgren works out in his garage gym.

“It’s a full set-up,” says Wittgren. “There’s anything you need.

Eric (Cressy) writes my program. My wife implements them.”

Ashley Wittgren has wealth of knowledge with an MS (Master of Science) degree and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Precision Nutrition (Pn1) and TPI accreditations. She is there to help her husband correctly perform the movements and get the most out of them.

“She could apply for a big league strength job if she wanted,” says Nick of his wife. “She walks and talks me through a lift so I can get as strong as I possibly can.”

During quarantine, Wittgren throws into a backyard net. On bullpen days, he throws to catchers living in the area brought together by CSP.

During the off-season, Wittgren long tosses. But as the season approaches, he gets dialed in to pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches.

“I want my release point during the season to stay the same on everything,” says Wittgren. “I keep it on a line the whole entire time and hit (the catcher’s) knees every single time.”

NICKWITTGRENINDIANS

Nick Wittgren, a McCutcheon High School graduate who pitched at Purdue University, is now a reliever for the Cleveland Indians. He made his Major League Baseball debut in 2016 with the Miami Marlins. (Cleveland Indians Photo)

NICKWITTGRENMLB

Nick Wittgren, who played at McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, delivers the baseball for the Cleveland Indians. He excelled as a set-up reliever for the Tribe in 2019. (MLB Photo)

 

Hall of Famer Hawkins talks about pitching ‘carrousel’, ‘ferris wheel,’ camaraderie

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

LaTroy Hawkins began his professional baseball playing career at 18 and wrapped it up at 42.

The 1991 Gary West Side High School graduate pitched 21 seasons in the big leagues, racking up 1,463 innings in 1,042 games.

There’s just no telling how many baseballs the 6-foot-5 right-hander might have thrown.

On the same day Hawkins became the 189th inductee into the Indiana High School Baseball Association Hall of Fame he talked to 2018 IHSBCA State Clinic attendees about pitching and more.

When Hawkins was selected in the seventh round of the 1991 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins and made his MLB debut in 1995, he was a rare commodity — an Indiana-born big leaguer.

There are many now.

“Baseball has definitely taken a step in the right direction in our state,” says Hawkins, who retired as a player after the 2015 season and now works with the pitchers in the Twins minor league system. “It’s because of (coaches) helping guys get better and pushing them to the next level.”

As a player, Hawkins worked out often to stay in shape. He kept his arm and shoulder sound by doing his “Jobe exercises” (arm raises and rotations with light weights of no more than five pounds) after he threw and then applied ice.

He never did any band work and only a little bit with a weighted ball.

While techniques have changed, Hawkins credits the industry for getting smarter about how to keep arms fit.

“At the end of the day, that’s all we’re trying to do — keep pitchers healthy,” says Hawkins. “When they’re around, they’re productive. When they’re sitting around in the clubhouse or the trainer’s room like I was my last two years in the big leagues, they’re not helping anybody.”

Hawkins had to have labrum surgery in 2010.

“I had two suchers put in my shoulder,” says Hawkins. “I didn’t think I’d ever pitch again. There’s a lot of guys who don’t come back from shoulder surgery.

“You’ve got to take care of your shoulder. The shoulder is much more complicated (than the elbow).”

Hawkins stresses the importance of pitching mechanics.

“The key is to have strong foundation,” says Hawkins. “Stand tall on that back leg. I still want you to have a slight bend in your knee so you can have something to push off with.

“Anything you do in sports, you want to be in an athletic position.”

Hawkins also saw value in having some rhythm to his mechanics.

“Everything is about timing and being in rhythm,” says Hawkins. “If you can dance, you can pitch.”

When his front leg went up, the ball was already coming out of his glove. If he held the ball too long it threw off his timing.

Hawkins sees so many pitchers today who want to tuck their glove under their lead arm during their delivery.

This tends to get the body going into a “carrousel” motion.

“You can’t pitch like that,” says Hawkins. “You’re fighting yourself all the time. You’re opening up way too soon

“I was always taught to be on the ‘ferris wheel’ (with the motion going toward the plate).”

To be able to repeat his delivery and stay relaxed, Hawkins kept his motion as simple as possible.

“I wanted to make it like I was playing catch,” says Hawkins. “I wanted to make it look like I didn’t have a care in the world — like it was second nature to me.”

He recalls learning from current 6-foot-10 Twins right-hander Aaron Slegers that he was taught at Indiana University to keep his motion compact as if he was throwing inside a phone booth (for those who know what one of those is).

With his height it is best for Slegers streamline his moving parts.

But it’s not a cookie-cutter world and Hawkins knows his way of thinking is not for everybody.

“Some are going to max effort guys,” says Hawkins. “I get that. But, at the end of the day, when I tried to throw hard I threw softer.

“When I was in my most relaxed state, that’s when i threw my hardest fastball. I’ve been trying to explain that to kids. They think if you muscle up, you’re going to throw hard. That’s not true. It’s not always about brute strength.”

While most hurlers stand on the same spot, Hawkins was known to move around on the pitching rubber looking for an advantage.

“I stood all over the mound,” says Hawkins. “It depended on who was hitting. If I’ve got a right-handed hitter, I’d stand on the third base side (of the rubber). I wanted a right-handed hitter to feel like I was on top of them.”

The hitter had to pick up a release point that was behind him and they had less time to see a fastball.

“It makes a huge difference,” says Hawkins. “I knew I could control my body and command my fastball so moving a few inches didn’t bother me.”

Hawkins learned these lessons over time. While he threw fastballs on more than 70 percent of his pitches, he also came to appreciate the change-up.

“The change-up is the best pitch in baseball,” says Hawkins. “Now everything is about velocity.

“We can’t throw the ball past guys anymore. Guys are seeing 100 mph everyday. They see it on the amateur level, in college, in he minor leagues. When you’re sitting on 100, you cannot hit (a good change-up).”

But an effective change is tough to develop. A pitcher must throw it all the time.

“I didn’t have a change-up my first 12 years in the big leagues,” says Hawkins. “But I knew one thing: If I didn’t work on it, I was going to be out of the game sooner than I wanted to.

“My last five years, I probably threw 100 change-ups to right-handed hitters.”

The idea is to deliver every pitch so it looks the same. When they were teammates with the Chicago Cubs in 2005, Hawkins remembers watching Hall of Famer-to-be Greg Maddux throw in the bullpen.

Maddux would use his peripheral vision to see that his release point was consistent.

With the change-up, it’s about selling it.

“You want your arm speed to look like your fastball,” says Hawkins. “You let the grip take away the miles per hour.”

At the beginning of his career, Hawkins threw daily and was amazed when he learned that Cubs teammate Mike Remlinger would take days off.

“He told me to save your bullets for the game,” says Hawkins of the left-hander who went on to log 14 MLB seasons. “I started doing that. It gave me life.

In 2017, the Twins acquired former Hawkins teammate Matt Belisle — someone who used to insist on throwing each day. Hawkins met up with him at the park.

Belisle: “Hawk, I’m saving my bullets.”

Hawkins: “Good, that’s why you’re still pitching.”

“You don’t have to throw everyday,” says Hawkins. “You won’t forget how.”

One thing that Hawkins wishes today’s players would not forget is their relationships with their teammates — the all-important cameraderie.

Even now, when former Twins players likes Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones and Corey Koskie come around home clubhouse at Target Field, they are cutting up with Hawkins and get stares from current players.

Hawkins knows what they’re thinking: “They’re so loud. What’s wrong with them?”

He recalls the fun of being around these guys day after day for months at a time.

“We didn’t have cell phones and iPads and stuff,” says Hawkins. “We had to talk to each other. We got a chance to know each other.”

When LaTroy and Anita Hawkins’ teenage daughter, Troi, has friends over to the house, LaTroy gathers all the cellphones so the teens can enjoy one another’s company.

If parents need to contact their child, they are to child LaTroy’s phone.

When Hawkins was with the Twins, teammates knew the names of each other’s children. They were in each other’s weddings. They went out to dinner together.

“We were friends,” says Hawkins. “It’s not like that now. When you’re with your teammates, you enjoy your teammates. You have to bond with your teammates. You have to know this guy has my back and I’ve got his back. We’re all pulling on the same rope.

“It’s all me, me, me. There’s no team mentality anymore and that’s killing baseball.”

LaTroy Hawkins #32 of the MinnesotaTwins

LaTroy Hawkins, a 1991 Gary West Side High School graduate, delivers a pitch for the Minnesota Twins. Hawkins pitched 21 years in the big leagues and was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2018. (Minnesota Twins Photo)