March 22, 2017
by Jon Cooper | The Good Word
There’s a special confidence every pitcher takes with him to the mound.
It’s a confidence fueled by the desire to compete against the guy 60 feet, 6 inches away and WIN.
Ben Schniederjans has that confidence and desire.
“He’s always been a competitor,” said head coach Danny Hall. “The competitor that he is he’ll keep getting better. It’s just good to get him back out there.”
Schniederjans made his sixth appearance of the season in 2017 on Tuesday night at Russ Chandler Stadium, facing No. 16 Auburn. It was his second straight midweek start and second against a top-20 team (he’d faced No. 12 Oklahoma the week before).
Facing the best didn’t faze him. It made him hungrier.
“Making good starts against guys like that gives you more confidence than if they weren’t ranked so high doing so well, hitting the ball well,” said the Powder Springs native, who is 0-1 as a starter, but has a 2.00 ERA. “It gives me confidence with whoever I face. I feel like I can get them out.”
He not only feels he can get hitters out, but that they shouldn’t even be allowed to put the ball in play in the process. To that end he’s struck out 11 hitters in nine innings over two starts, while holding the Sooners and Tigers to a combined .133 batting average. He’s pounded the strike zone, as he’s thrown 59.5 percent of his pitches for strikes (81 of 136).
“He doesn’t want anybody to hit,” said assistant coach Jason Howell. “He’s the pitching version of ‘Gonzo’ (former Jacket Matt Gonzalez). He thinks he should get everybody out, kind of how ‘Gonzo’ thought he should get a hit off everybody.”
While all these strikeouts have kind of run up the pitch count that’s kind of a Catch-22 that Howell can live with.
“Right now he’s getting a high swing/miss percentage,” Howell said. “Maybe you’d like to see it more efficient maybe within four pitches or five, but as long as he’s pounding the strike zone and he’s throwing strikes then five innings, four innings, six innings is a quality start out of him midweek. When you start looking at the swings and misses there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.”
Just keep running him out there. That’s something the Jackets DEFINITELY can live with, especially considering the road Schniederjans has taken to get to this point.
He’s come back from an elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery and cost him the majority of the 2015 season and all of 2016. It tested his previously unshakeable mental toughness.
“I honestly questioned if I’d ever play again,” said the redshirt-junior right-hander. “It’s a big mental hurdle. It gives you an appreciation for the game more. The toughest part is that questioning, if it will come back to what it was, what it’s going to feel like and just trying to build it back up. It’s a long process.”
That “will-do” attitude began before he walked on to the baseball team in 2014. It actually was a key to him walking IN to Georgia Tech.
“I want to say that he took the SAT four or five times just to get the score to get in here,” said Howell. “So that persistence to get that done, to get into school on his own, to make the club, to be a starter on it, it’s just him being persistent, it’s him being resilient and just being a great competitor.”
Schniederjans not only made the team but contributed right away, making 13 relief appearances as a freshman, seven of those scoreless. As a sophomore he went from long relief to midweek starter. But on Feb. 24, at Auburn, he left the game after four innings, with elbow soreness. He wouldn’t pitch again and Oct. 13, 2015 underwent Tommy John surgery.
He wouldn’t give up on coming back. His family wouldn’t let him.
That family, is specifically older brother, Ollie, and younger brother, Luke, who are well known in Georgia Tech golf circles, as Ollie was one of the top golfers ever to tee it up on the Flats and has three top-10 finishes in 2017 on the PGA Tour, while Luke is a freshman on the team and has already recorded a pair of wins for the Jackets.
Ollie, especially, took on an important behind-the-scenes role.
“Ollie’s a really good role model. Someone to look up to,” said Ben, who is 22 months younger. “He’s got a strong mental game and he’ll give me advice and confidence. Seeing him do so well also gives me that edge that ‘I’ve got to get up there. I’ve got to be better.’”
He’s gotten better from rehab, as in 2017, he worked his way back slowly, making five relief appearances, allowing three earned runs (four overall) and six hits over five innings, striking out five and walking two. Then, when opportunity knocked, and the midweek role opened up, due to an injury to Ben Parr, Schniederjans jumped on the opportunity.
He flummoxed OU, throwing five shutout innings, allowing one hit, striking out six while walking two. On Tuesday night, he threw four innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on three hits, striking out five while walking two. Tuesday’s start was special as it brought his comeback full-circle.
“He’s worked extremely hard over the last two years to get where he is. The team that started it all was Auburn,” said Howell. “So to see him come in and really command the strike zone and make the pitches to get out that he needed to get out was definitely a good sign and it helps us in the future moving forward.”
Schniederjans’ moving forward actually takes Howell back to 2016 and record-setting closer Matthew Gorst, who set a single-season record with a 0.55 ERA.
“The more they threw they became more comfortable in their own skin and developing feel and strike zone command,” Howell said. “One thing that Ben’s been able to do in both of his outings is he’s going in and out very effectively. So what he can do with his fastball is making up for the lack of maybe where the breaking ball is right now. I think that has been fun to watch, going through the progression and the rehab and the bullpens and then seeing the same result in games against hitters. And GOOD hitters at that, with Oklahoma and Auburn.”
Up next is Mercer, an unranked team but certainly no slouch.
“Mercer’s a good team,” Schniederjans said. “They’re a Georgia rival so they’re going to be coming in hot trying to beat us. So that will be a fun one.”
Getting to start again, after almost having it taken away makes pitching fun again. Schniederjans feels more fun is in store as he improves his arm strength.
“I’m getting there. I’m close,” he said. “I wouldn’t give myself 100 percent yet but the ball is coming out well, it’s feeling good. I know I can’t go out there and throw 90 pitchers, per se, like I would have been able to before the injury, but it’s showing progress and I hope to be at 100 percent, if I’m not already, soon.”