May 10, 2011
By Jon Cooper
It’s fun watching Georgia Tech’s pitchers attack opposing hitters.
Weekend starters Mark Pope, Jed Bradley and Buck Farmer as well as midweek starter Matt Grimes can be surgeon-like in their precision as they carve up opposing batting orders. And they make it look so easy.
A key, but often understated, element in that ease is the rapport between the pitchers and their catcher.
For Yellow Jackets hurlers that’s freshman Zane Evans. Evans’ ability as a receiver has given the staff added confidence when throwing to the plate.
“He’s a good receiver,” said Pope, who also is Evans’ roommate on the road. “He’s done really well, especially for how young he is.
“He’s really easy-going. He’s not one of those guys that gets defensive when something’s not working. He’s ready to learn,” Pope added. “I’ve built up a close relationship with him. I’m always with him, just working on stuff. He’s always eager to learn and listen, trying to figure out something that can help us out. The way he’s picked it up, especially calling games for me, it’s been unreal how fast he’s learned.”
Such praise from Pope is a big deal, as the Tech ace is the only pitcher allowed to call his own pitches (Assistant Coach Tom Kinkelaar calls the pitches for the rest of the staff). That Evans can negotiate in calling pitches speaks volumes for the trust they’ve developed.
“I’m going to shake him off a good amount but it’s usually from like one off-speed to another,” said Pope. “He knows when a change of pace needs to come. He does really well with that, especially with hitters’ tendencies. The only thing we need to do is make sure we don’t get in patterns. We’re working on that and he’s done really well taking care of that, too.”
Evans has shown an innate ability to handle each member of the staff according to his individual talents.
“He’s done great,” said Kinkelaar. “When I sit down with Mark I sit down with Zane, too, so I’ll explain all the hitters to him so he has a good idea. Even when I’m calling the pitches, he kind of feels where we’re going with it. So that’s a good thing.
Evans’ work ethic, adaptability to the staff and durability — he got Tuesday’s game against Savannah State off after having caught the team’s previous 22 games — has impressed.
“A freshman stepping in like that and catching that many games that’s an outstanding effort on his part,” said Kinkelaar. “When we brought him in here, we weren’t expecting that he was going to have to do it that much. We kind of thrust him into that role.”
“Honestly, he’s exceeded my expectations 10-fold,” said Saturday pitcher Jed Bradley. “It’s been unbelievable, the progression that he’s made since he first came in. I remember my first bullpen that I threw to him. As a pitcher and a catcher we didn’t really match up very well. But he’s come so far. We’ve got a lot of chemistry together. It gets better every [start].”
Sunday pitcher Buck Farmer had thrown to Evans prior to his starting at Georgia Tech, and knew how good he was, but he, too, is impressed with the receiver’s growth.
“Once he got here, he just developed into a more versatile catcher,” said Farmer. “Working with [Assistant Coach] Bryan Prince, his receiving skills have become a lot better. He’s getting more pitches for our pitchers. He’s also become a well-rounded hitter and his body language behind the plate is totally different from what it used to be.”
The opportunity to work with Prince helped tip the scale in Georgia Tech’s favor over Auburn, his other suitor.
“I know how Coach Prince works,” said Evans. “I came down here to camps and worked with him when I was in high school. I really liked what he did and he talked about how if I came in here he could really develop me as a catcher. He’s really helped out a lot.”
The pitchers feel the same way about Evans.