Peeking into the bullpen

Rachel Jones

The Kent State baseball coaches personally mold and teach each of the 34 players, but the small circle of pitchers gets extra one-on-one attention.

Mike Birkbeck, Kent State associate head coach, said he spends about 80 percent of his time coaching just the pitchers.

“There’s definitely a better relationship with those guys,” Birkbeck. “(We’re) definitely closer.”

The close crew spends their practices trying to master what Birkbeck said is the perfect pitching style: maximum command with maximum velocity.

Basically, he does not care if Kent State’s pitchers can whip the ball down faster than any other pitcher because without accuracy that speed is a waste.

“If you can throw 100 (mph) but you’re wild, maybe you should try throwing 95 (mph) with better command,” Birkbeck explained. “By better command, I mean putting the ball where we want to put it.”

This is the general philosophy or goal for all of the pitchers. But Birkbeck said the players need to be viewed as individuals with personal agendas instead of lumping them together as one unit.

“They’re all different,” Birkbeck said. “They all have different buttons and mechanisms you need to focus on. You need to find in each of these young men what makes them tick.”

Friday’s Starter: Sophomore Andrew Chafin

Starting off that series by pitching on Fridays is sophomore Andrew Chafin.

Birkbeck said the initial pitcher stands out by bringing a strong presence to the mound.

“Andrew is the definition of a power pitcher,” Birkbeck said. “He has a strong fastball, a wipe-out slider and a change-up that he’s becoming more confident in.”

These strong throwing styles grant Chafin the ability to throw strikes down both sides of the plate.

While the sophomore shows enthusiasm and willingness to improve, Birkbeck said he “just kind of lets it happen.”

But that free spirit doesn’t mean he’s just floating through each practice. He uses his fiery, explosive pitching skills to lead his teammates by example.

If the pitchers can learn from each other and pick up as much as they can from the coaches, Birkbeck said the Flashes should have a productive season.

“I just hope that they can get as close to their potential as they possibly can while we have them,” Birkbeck said. “We’ll see where that takes us as a team.”

Saturday’s Starter: Senior Kyle Hallock

Knowing how much power he has as the pitcher makes senior Kyle Hallock tick.

“I like the fact that every play starts with me,” Hallock said. “I have control over the game, kind of.”

When he’s in control, Hallock said he likes to maintain a quick pitching rhythm instead of stalling on the mound like some pitchers prefer.

But it’s his control of emotions that makes him stand out among other pitchers.

“I think what sets me apart is the fact that the bigger the moment is, the more comfortable I am,” Hallock said. “I block it all out in pressure situations.”

And he’s not letting the pressures of being a senior leader get to him either.

Instead, the veteran is trying to set positive examples for his teammates and leave this season without any regrets.

“Every time we get dressed and go out and play, it means more this year,” Hallock said. “I want to work as hard as I can so when I look back — if I do get beat — I know it’s not because I was outworked.”

Sunday’s Starter: Junior David Starn

Also working hard in and out of practice is junior David Starn.

He started out as a first baseman in his earlier baseball years, but after moving on to pitching in high school, he never left the mound.

“I stopped hitting after my sophomore year (of high school) and just focused on pitching,” Starn said. “Most pitchers want to hit, but pitching’s what got me here, so obviously it’s what I like to do.”

He also likes knowing all eyes are on him when he’s pitching, and the only thing on his mind is trying to overcome the batter in front of him.

But he does not get his strikes with speed.

“I’m the kind of guy who’s not going to light up the radar gun,” Starn said. “I kind of rely more on control and keeping the hitters off balance.”

Favoring his changeup and slider, the Sunday pitcher works both to wrap up weekend series with the Flashes on top.

“I’m always going to try to win on Sunday,” Starn said. “I like getting to come home on a win.”

Contact Rachel Jones at [email protected]