Losing senior leadership in any sport can be a challenge. For the Whitworth baseball team, the graduation of last year’s seniors did not just mean losing a few mentors. It meant losing its entire starting rotation and some key pieces of its bullpen. However, a trio of freshmen in Ryan Kingma, Hugh Smith and Tim Bever have come in and filled the massive holes left after last year’s graduation.
Pitching coach CJ Perry describes the team’s recruiting focus in attempting to replace the starting rotation filled with seniors who had accumulated multiple First and Second Team All-NWC accolades in addition to a handful of Honorable Mentions.
“We were just looking for guys that could compete and we would take two guys to match one guy’s production,” Perry said.
The coaches sought to find people who could compete and collectively match the production.
Going into the year, the Whitworth coaching staff was pretty happy with where they stood as far as pitching recruits. But good recruiting does not always equal success.
For freshmen pitchers it is difficult to tell how they will perform. Sometimes recruits never pan out or for others it takes a few years, Perry said.
Fortunately, Whitworth’s young pitching additions seem to have college pitching figured out pretty well so far. Smith and Kingma, have filled slots in the starting rotation while Bever has seen significant time out of the bullpen.
But none of these pitchers necessarily fit the mold of power and dominance that came before them. Instead, they are playing to their personal strengths.
Bever defines his pitching style as that of a junk baller.
“I throw a lot of curveballs and changes to keep opposing hitters off balanced,” Bever said.
The Redondo Beach, California native has been a major help as a long reliever, allowing the Pirates to keep their bullpen fresh all year. Despite only making one start and four other appearances, Bever has logged an impressive 24.33 innings with an impressive 2.22 earned run average.
Kingma on the other hand embraces the role of a crafty lefty. The freshman from Bellevue, Washington knows he is not going to overpower opposing hitters. Instead, he focuses in on hitting the edges of the strike zone. In his first season, Kingma has already accumulated six wins, tying him for second in the NWC in that category.
One of the biggest surprises for the Pirates has been 6’7” freshman Hugh Smith. Initially working out of the bullpen, Smith quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with and moved into the starting rotation.
“He is so long and the arm is so loose that the fastball jumps,” Perry said describing Smith’s style.
His height and velocity combine to really shorten the distance between the pitcher’s mound and the plate. So much so that Smith has an impressive WHIP (walks, hit by pitches, and hits per inning) of 1.01 and ranks second in the Northwest Conference in earned run average at 1.99.
Collectively, all of Whitworth baseball’s freshman class pitchers have posted a 13-3 record. It will be interesting to watch how these freshmen respond to the pressure of crunch time as the conference tournament and postseason play are approaching rapidly.