So You Think You Can Pitch?

April 24, 2008

By Allen Wagner
The Daily

Husky Ballpark has seen many legends grace its grass in the years past,but none are perhaps more intriguing or nationally relevant than UWalumni and San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum.

Lincecum had all the skills necessary to make it in the big leagues inthe beginning, but throwing for the Huskies for coach Ken Knutson helpedhim develop thoroughly and brought big attention to the quality of thepitching coming out of Washington.

'He looked pretty much the same coming in as he did when he left and ashe does now with San Francisco,' Knutson said of Lincecum. 'I wasn'tgoing to screw him up. What he did was really good and I would try toenhance rather than change him.'

Knutson did just that, and after Lincecum and last year's first rounddraft prospect, left-handed pitcher Nick Hagadone, left the team asseniors to play in the majors, Knutson and fellow pitching coach TigheDickinson still continue to develop Husky pitchers.

The coaches have to begin somewhere, and recruiting players out of highschool can be interesting as they look for specific attributes.For Dickinson, it's all about command.

'We look at guys that have some velocity,' he said. 'But we're reallyinterested in their secondary pitches and if they can throw those forstrikes.'

Knutson concurred, and added that it also might be good for an incomingpitcher to understand what it feels like to take losses, because collegebaseball is seldom forgiving when it comes to opposing offenses.

Every pitcher has had similar experiences in that sense, but each hasdifferent views on how to best develop as a college pitcher.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Cam Nobles, who played at Jackson HighSchool in Mill Creek, Wash., before coming to the UW, is an example ofthe recruit definition of a guy who can throw high speed pitches forstrikes.

Although he admits his fastball isn't where he'd like it to be, Noblesrecognizes the value of being able to accurately throw secondarypitches.

'I've always had good off speed,' he said. 'I can throw my three pitchesfor strikes.'

But for Nobles, freshman year was not spent developing pitches. Hesuffered a stress fracture in his throwing arm and had to sit outvirtually the whole season, but he didn't let the injury get him down.

'It definitely set me back playing on the field,' he said. 'But at thesame time I was able to work out. Whenever you have an injury you comeback stronger because you rehab so much and you work out so much.'

The coaches worked with him to build strength and are now working withhim in some unique ways on his fastball pitch.

A variety of exercises help him work on his problems, includingsituating a fake rubber hitter, known as Bush, around the plate indifferent areas to help find the strike zone.

'I'll put Bush all around the plate and act like he's a batter up thereand try and spot my fastball,' Nobles said. 'We do a lot of drills, abunch of things off the mound to get your mind set to throw fastballsfor strikes.'

Junior left-handed pitcher Nick Haughian says that these types ofdrills, as well as building strength and stamina, are important, butthat working on mentally preparing yourself can be an even bigger asset.

'My biggest advantage over any of my opponents is my ability to maintainmy composure,' Haughian said. 'Regardless of how good or bad things aregoing, you try to keep an even keel so when things do go bad you're ableto get back on track.'

A prime example of Haughian's mindset came during Sunday's start at Calwhen Haughian gave up four runs in the seventh inning but gatheredhimself and pitched a solid eighth inning to keep the Dawgs in the game.

For Haughian, it's these types of experiences that he believes helpbuild a solid college pitcher.

'You want to feel like you aren't limited by anything,' he said. 'I wantto feel like, regardless of what kind of pitch I'm throwing or what I'masked to do with the ball, I can do it.'

Fellow junior Jorden Merry, who transferred to UW from Lower ColumbiaCommunity College in Longview, Wash., can attest to that.

'You're only able to control yourself and what you're able to do, so youcan't really control what other teams are about,' he said. 'You justhave to realize that through practice and being on the mound.'

The Husky pitchers aren't looking to become the next Tim Lincecum, butthey are developing in their own ways. With the help of the coachingstaff, they have posted great numbers thus far in the season.

Part pure talent, part developing through practice, experience and hardwork, the UW pitching staff is a continuously growing unit, and Knutsonsaid part of it comes with being willing and able to do the worknecessary to become a good pitcher.

'We let our guys succeed and fail on their [own] because of theirefforts,' he said. 'We're going to show them different ways to do thingsand through discovery they find out what works best for them.'

Knutson has produced 17 All-Pac-10 pitchers and three first-round draftpicks in his 15 years as coach of the Washington baseball team. Based onhis continued philosophy and the talent that gets developed, thisprogram will likely produce more.

'If you have the desire to be great then this is a great program becausewe're going to turn you loose and let you do your thing,' he said.

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