By STEVE KRAH
Garrett Burhenn likes to get the plate umpire throwing up his right hand on a regular basis.
If arbiter is that means the Ohio State University junior is accomplishing his goal of pitching for strikes.
“I want to fill up the zone,” says Burhenn, a right-hander at the top of the Buckeyes starting rotation. “Walks kind of bug me a little bit.”
The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder with the low three-quarter arm slot wants to establish command with his fastball.
“All my other pitches play off of it,” says Burhenn, who sports a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curve. “I pitch to contact and trust my stuff to get those outs.”
Burhenn, an Indianapolis native, is 2-1 with a 4.15 earned run average as Ohio State (13-9) heads into a Big Ten Conference series April 16-18 at Maryland.
In six appearances (all starts), he has 36 strikeouts and 13 walks in 34 2/3 innings. The opposition is hitting .258 against him.
Ohio State head coach Greg Beals has given Burhenn the baseball 25 times — all as a starter— since the hurler began his college career in 2019.
“Coach Beals tells me to go out there and compete and to trust the process and the work I’ve put in since freshman year,” says Burhenn, who is 10-7 with a 4.59 ERA with 134 K’s and 48 base-on-balls in 147 career innings with close to two-thirds of his more than 2,300 pitches going for strikes. “He puts trust in me.
“I take my work very seriously and I think he sees that.”
Burhenn credits OSU pitching coach Dan DeLucia and director of pitching development Brad Goldberg for their roles in making him a better moundsman.
“They’ve helped me to understand and have a purpose in each pitch I throw,” says Burhenn. “I don’t go out there (to the mound) with no game plan.
“I mix pitches and pound the zone.”
While many summer college leagues shut down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Burhenn spent eight weeks learning about pitch design and developing his craft at FullReps Training Center in Camp Hill, Pa., near Harrisburg. His Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft advisor Sam Samardzija Jr. (brother of big league pitcher Jeff Samardzija) is good friends with FullReps owner Scott Swanson.
Burhenn, 21, hopes to be selected in the 2021 MLB Draft, but if that doesn’t happen he expects to pitch somewhere this summer though he does not yet know where.
He says he was thinking about going to the Cape Cod League, but did not play in the summer after his OSU freshman season because he logged 91 innings — nearly twice what he pitched as a senior at Lawrence North High School in the spring of 2018.
Burhenn played three varsity seasons for the Richard Winzenread-coached Wildcats.
“I started seriously pitching with him,” says Burhenn of the veteran coach. “I started getting pitching tips as a freshman. He’s developed me and helped me understand things.
“I’m very grateful for everything he’s taught me.”
Seeing some varsity mound action as a sophomore, Burhenn also played center field his last two high school seasons. The two-time all-Marion County honoree posted a 1.76 ERA and 88 strikeouts as a junior and went 6-1 with an 0.76 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings as a senior while earning Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-state distinction. He’s been a pitcher-only at Ohio State.
“I kind of miss swinging the bat,” says Burhenn. “I know it’s extremely hard at this level.”
Growing up in Lawrence Township, Burhenn’s first organized baseball came at Skiles Test Little League. He played travel ball for the Indiana Bandits and Indiana Mustangs.
Mike Farrell coached him with the Mustangs.
“My presence on the mound, I learned that from him,” says Burhenn. “He taught me to be a better player and better teammate. He’s very blunt and straight to the point, which I liked about him.
“He’s very honest. I really appreciate Mike.”
In a 2021 regular season with only Big Ten games and no conference tournament, Burhenn has started against Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers, Iowa, Indiana and Michigan. He racked up a season-high nine strikeouts and seven innings pitched March 26 against Iowa.
Attendance at Big Ten games has been restricted to family members and those on the guest list.
“It’s enjoyable when your family and loved ones are there at least,” says Burhenn.
He’s also relished the opportunity to compete against players he knows from high school or travel ball.
“It’s fun playing against familiar faces in an elite conference,” says Burhenn, who saw many of those in the Indiana lineup and counts Kokomo (Ind.) High School graduate and junior right-hander Bayden Root as an OSU teammate.
On the academic side of things, Burhenn is majoring in Operations Management as part of Ohio State’s Max M. Fisher College of Business.
Dave and Heather Burhenn have two sons — Garrett and Nick. The latter is a soccer player and Lawrence North junior.