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#STINGDAILY: Quality Start

Oct. 28, 2012

By Jon Cooper, Sting Daily

Georgia Tech baseball doesn’t get started until Feb. 15, the day after Valentine’s Day.

By then it should have a good gauge on the state of the relationship between pitching coach Jason Howell and the pitching staff. If the fall is any indication, it looks like a relationship that is going to work out very well.

The Jackets wrapped up fall practice last Tuesday with the third and deciding game of the annual White-Gold Series. Even though there was plenty of offense with a combined total of 33 runs and 54 hits in the three games — Gold won the opener 5-2 before White won both Games Two and Three, 7-6 — pitching still was at the forefront.

The man who will work behind the scenes as the staff’s guiding hand, first-year pitching coach Jason Howell, was pleased with what he saw.

“I think the fall went great,” said Howell, who was hired on July 18 to replace long time coach Tom Kinkelaar. “I told the pitchers afterward I’m getting to evaluate, getting to know them and they’re getting to know me. It’s sort of how fall is. You work out some things that individually the guys need. I couldn’t be happier with the way things have gone. It’s been a great fall from my standpoint.”

Howell, who had been an assistant coach at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington since 2008, went in with an open mind and did what he does best.

“Just being myself around them,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a little bit of a learning curve on all ends with everybody feeling it’s my job to get to know them and what makes them tick, not only from the pitching end but also from the personal end as well.”

Howell was as pleased with his staff on every level.

“Honestly, I’ve been impressed with all of them. Everybody brings different things to the table,” he said. “From my understanding and watching Buck [Farmer] from video, he’s come back in really good shape. Jonathan Roberts made two really good outings his last two outings of the fall and did a really good job. The young guys coming in and not really being in awe of everything, especially with the top of the lineup that we can potentially have, they’ve all gone out and competed and not been deer-in-the-headlights. That’s been refreshing. I’ve seen a lot of really good things. I think there’s still a lot of room to grow, obviously, but it’s a good base to get started off.”

Everything starts with Farmer. Last year’s Friday night starter who returned for his senior year, went five innings in Game One of the White-Gold Series, allowing one earned run, two overall, and four hits, striking out eight and walking none, although he’d take the loss. Roberts, a junior right-hander, won Game Three, allowing one earned run and four hits, with four Ks and one walk in five innings.

It’s setting up a nice rotation.

“I’m really excited to see how it plays out,” said junior right-hander Dusty Isaacs, last year’s Saturday starter. “We have our horse back in Buck and we have two guys who threw on the weekend last year with me and Cole Pitts, (White’s starter and loser in Game Two, allowing five runs, only two earned, in four innings). Then we have some guys back off injury.”

Isaacs, who out-dueled Farmer to get the win for Gold in Game One, throwing five shutout innings, allowing three hits, while striking out five and not walking a batter, feels Howell did right by the entire staff during the fall.

“I like him a lot,” he said. “It’s got to be tough for him coming in with a group of guys that have been here three years together and have a lot of older guys. But he jumped right in, has been very hands-on. He’s done a good job of balancing seeing people for the first time, while also giving constructive criticism and really helping us out. He’s going to be a great fit.”

Especially impressive was the way Howell let pitchers work through difficulties.

“He’ll sit back and watch a pitcher, and let the pitcher correct himself,” said Isaacs. “If that doesn’t work he’ll step in. He watches every detail. My big thing is he gives the pitcher a chance to kind of correct it himself and then he steps in and does a great job of that.”

Howell, who was All-ACC for North Carolina in 2001, then signed with the Boston Red Sox as an undrafted free agent and pitched in their minor league system until 2004, getting as high as Double-A, gave credit for that part of his philosophy to his days as a Tar Heel and head basketball coach Roy Williams.

“You see [Coach Williams] all the time he doesn’t call timeouts when a lot of people think maybe he should. He sort of uses that Dean Smith philosophy, ‘They got themselves into it. Let’s see if they can work through it,'” he said. “Pitching in college and other levels, things are going to happen. You’re going to give up a double, you’re going to give up a walk and somebody is going to make an error behind you. You have to be able to come back and react positively and do your job after things like that happen.

“The more you can put guys in situations that are uncomfortable that they’re not used to, when it happens in a game — because it’s always happens in a game at some point — the better off you are trying to get through it,” he continued. “Doing it in the fall has given me a chance to see how they work out of things, see who can maybe work through it, who you may have to go have mound visits with or who maybe you can leave in and try to get that extra out. All that is part of the learning curve.”

Howell was on something of a learning curve of his own this fall. He learned that he can let his North Carolina experience color his references, but he can no longer let it color his wardrobe.

“We’ve made it a point to let him know it is all gold and white around here,” said Isaacs. “But he’s done a great job. I think he really likes it and I hope it really works out.”

Howell’s got it down.

“No doubt,” he said, with a laugh. “It’s gold and white, baby, gold and white.”


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