March 4, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Nobody likes Monday.
Opponents playing Georgia Tech Baseball have come to really hate it. They’ve come to despise Sunday as well.
Yellow Jackets Sunday starter Cole Pitts is a big reason why.
Three weeks into the season, Pitts is 3-0, with a 1.59 ERA, having allowed a total of three earned runs and nine hits in 17 innings. He’s struck out 15 in those 17 frames and is holding batters to a paltry .158 average, fourth in the ACC. He’ll carry a seven-inning scoreless streak into his first ACC start this Sunday when No. 18 Georgia Tech travels to Virginia Tech, where he hopes to complete the fourth straight weekend sweep of the season.
It’s the opportunity to complete those sweeps that motivates the sophomore right-hander from Moultrie, Ga., who started his career as Tech’s mid-week starter, winning three of his four decisions, before being moved to Sunday for the April 7-9 series against Florida State. It’s been a great fit.
“I really enjoy throwing on Sunday,” Pitts said. “It gives you an opportunity to give your team either a sweep or take a series. I like that feeling and I look forward to going out there and getting a win for my team.”
That outlook impresses Tech’s first-year Pitching Coach Jason Howell.
“For him to say that just shows the maturity level of being out there and understanding how important Sunday is,” said Howell. “It’s crucial. You have a chance to sweep somebody or you have a chance to win the series. It’s a lot of pressure that wrests on guys’ shoulders and he’s a perfect guy to have out there for that.”
He was the perfect guy to have out there even before Howell arrived on The Flats. Last May 19th, with a berth in the ACC Tournament hanging in the balance, Pitts took the ball trying to win a game against Miami. He rose to the occasion, putting the ‘U’ in unhappy, throwing a career-best seven innings, allowing one run, two hits and one walk, with five strikeouts. He threw 61 of his 97 pitches for strikes and slammed the door shut after surrendering a second-inning run, as Tech came back to win, 2-1.
So far in 2013, Pitts hasn’t had to worry about waiting for the team to give him support. In his three starts, Tech has outscored the opposition 21-3 with him in the game. He’s trailed for a total of one inning and over the last two starts hasn’t trailed at all, as the Yellow Jackets scored two in the first against St. John’s two weekends ago and six against Rutgers this past Sunday.
“Any time they get you run-support like that it makes it 10 times easier to go out there and just throw strikes,” he said. “You don’t have to really worry about trying to strike out a guy. You can just go and throw and let them hit it because you’re up and you’ve got the run-support. You’re just trying to get your team in as quick as you can.”
Pitts has helped himself, as against St. John’s he got key double plays in each of the first two innings.
“Cole’s coming out giving us a chance from the get-go,” said Howell. “You know what you’re going to get. You’re going to get strikes, and you’re going to have a guy around the plate who is going to really compete and get after it.”
Being around the plate and pitching to contact has been a key element of his success.
“I’ve really worked on keeping the ball down and just throwing to the hitters. If they’re going to beat me, let them beat me, but not give any walks,” said Pitts, who has walked three hitters and thrown 67 percent of his pitches for strikes (160 of 239). “I try to keep my pitch count down by just letting them put the ball in play and not try to overpower anybody. It’s helped me to keep my pitch-count low. I’ve thrown six innings with an 80-pitch count, so it’s been working out.”
Having confidence in his teammates has not only allowed but encouraged him to pitch to contact.
“I know if they hit it I’ve got a pretty good chance my infield is going to make the play on it, or the outfield,” he said. “We’ve got some fast guys in the outfield and we’ve got some guys on the infield that have really good hands. So I put all my confidence in them.”
That confidence has grown with the addition of a cutter to his repertoire.
“I’ve really developed the cutter over the past year, or half-year actually,” he said. “The change-up’s always been there but the cutter really is a big pitch. It’s gotten to where I’ve got pretty good command on it.”
Howell said the difference Pitts with the cutter is noticeable.
“Cole’s added a cutter, which he has a lot of confidence in,” he said. “He can throw that in any of the counts and having a two-seamer that runs in and a cutter running away from the righties has just given him a really good weapon that he’s confident in.”
It adds up to a pitcher that’s tough to beat and, most important, a pitcher that knows he’s tough to beat when Sunday rolls around.
“I’m learning to go out and have more confidence at the mound,” he said. “Go out and know that I’m better than the hitter. Just go out and show the hitter that I’m better. I’ve gained a lot of confidence ever since the last couple of starts. Just building every time.”