March 28, 2002
By Simit Shah – Ninth inning, bases loaded, nobody out. Danny Hall is trying to protect a one-run lead. He makes the trip out to the mound to bring in his closer. He turns and signals to the shortstop?
That’s right. Georgia Tech’s new closer, Victor Menocal, is also the starting shortstop. The concept may seem laughable, but Menocal is no joke on the mound for the sixth-ranked Jackets. Inserted into every reliever’s worst nightmare last week against Eastern Kentucky, the 6-foot-3 senior slammed the door with a strikeout and a game-ending double play grounder.
“That was unbelievable,” said Menocal, who earned his first collegiate save in that game. “We were pretty pumped up, and [Hall] told me I did a good job. The next day at practice he told me to be ready to go for the rest of the season.”
Menocal first began toying with the idea of logging some innings on the mound over the summer. Several professional scouts suggested Menocal might have a better chance to play on the next level as a pitcher.
Menocal was a closer at suburban Gainesville High School, but he had never pitched in a college game. He began throwing during the summer and raised the possibility with Hall, who was reluctant at first.
“He threw well in the fall with good velocity,” Hall said. “It’s rare to see a guy come from shortstop to close, so that was probably my hang-up with it. I just didn’t know logistically if we could make it work.”
So how has it worked?
Since Menocal is the everyday shortstop, he does not have the luxury of warming up in the bullpen for a few innings. If Hall thinks Menocal might be needed to close out a game, Menocal heads down to the bullpen during the Jackets’ final at-bat.
He loosens up while Tech bats and takes the mound the next half inning. There have been several instances where Menocal has been due up at the plate, so he sprints from the bullpen to the plate.
“It’s a definitely a strange situation,” he said. “Once I got on base, so that kept me from warming up as much as I would have liked.” “It’s very strange. You just don’t see it,” added Hall.
Any oddities are tossed aside when you look at the numbers. In five appearances this season, Menocal has a perfect ERA, allowing only one hit.
“When you’re on pitcher’s mound, you control the game. You’re the one with the ball,” said Menocal. “The adrenaline really flows when you’re on the mound, but I like that situation. I get really pumped up.”
Menocal denies emulating any of the dominant major league closers, dishing out the standard “I’m just trying to throw strikes” clich?.
But he quickly adds with a laugh, “Actually, I’m just trying not to throw them off the backstop.”
His two wild pitches and three hit batsmen indicate he’s not quite a polished hurler yet, but Hall has been impressed with his repertoire.
“Victor throws hard, and his fastball has a lot of movement,” Hall said. “For the most part, he locates it very well. That’s his best pitch. He’s got a pretty good curveball, too.
“I think [pitching] gives him another option. He’s got another skill that will help him play professionally.”
While his arm has been a pleasant surprise this season, Menocal has done plenty of damage with his bat.
He is leading the team in several offensive categories-batting average, hits, runs, on-base percentage and doubles. His .436 batting average ranks fifth in the conference. “I worked on a lot of things this summer trying to develop my game,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done that offensively.”
Just as important as the statistics is Menocal’s emergence as one of the team’s leaders. The subtraction of nine drafted players and the addition of 17 incoming freshman equaled a need for leadership.
Menocal has helped fill that void and ensured that the Jackets didn’t miss a beat. He has taken time to nurture the younger players both on and off the field.
“Victor’s a guy that everyone respects because of how hard he works,” said Hall. “He’s got good character. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s having a good year and able to handle both roles as closer and shortstop.”
While he relishes his dual role success, Menocal is firmly focused on helping the Jackets secure a berth in the College World Series.
“I want to concentrate on making it to Omaha this season,” he said. “After that, I’d just like an opportunity to play professionally. Some scouts like me as a shortstop, others as a pitcher. I’m willing to do either.”