By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
It’s not like Brant Hurter is new at this, given that he’s been playing baseball since before he did a day in kindergarten, yet Georgia Tech’s Sunday starter sure looks like a new pitcher thanks in large part to meeting Christian and Tristan (not English).
To be sure, he looked like a pitcher even as a freshman, all 6-and-a-half feet of him standing tall on the mound firing heat from the left side and curling balls well enough to lock in as the primary mid-week starter for the Yellow Jackets. You go 5-4 and strikeout 56 batters in 53.2 innings, and you’re more than chopped liver.
But he wasn’t content with all that.
Hurter felt that command of the game he loves was just off his fingertips. He wasn’t happy with that 6.04 ERA, nor the 23 walks and nine batters bonked that attached to his 14 appearances. And Brant loathed that curve ball.
So, the young man spent last summer with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod League stretching out his stride, scrapping the curve ball and fine-tuning a new slider which has turned out to be the pitch, “I’ve been looking for.’”
He’s found something. After Hurter’s first three appearances – two starts – he has an ERA of 0.69. In 13 innings, he’s walked one batter, hit one and struck out 23. Opponents are hitting .204.
Danny Hall will feel good sending the sophomore southpaw out Sunday at Miami after juniors Xzavion Curry and Connor Thomas start Friday and Saturday as Tech opens ACC play.
“Even though he got a lot of mid-week starts last year, I think he was disappointed that he didn’t pitch better,” the head coach said of a second-year student-athlete from Woodstock. “He went to the Cape last summer and kind of found himself . . . There was a pitching coach that he really liked . . .
“He was talented coming in, but he refined a lot of stuff last summer in the Cape, [and] he has worked really, really hard every day to get better and we’re seeing results.”
Some of this might qualify as luck, but the bottom line is that part of Hurter finding himself has to do with finding the right people when he landed in the Cape Cod League.
First, there was Yarmouth-Dennis pitching coach Christian Wonders.
He’s an interesting story. At 27, he’s a baseball junkie. He grew up in Florida, pitched a little at a junior college and a Division II program in Florida, and then for a bit at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, where he picked up a degree in exercise science.
Wonders works in strength and conditioning and teaches pitching for a living, maybe better than he pitched. Whatever his secret sauce, he connected with Hurter in ways others could not.
“He analyzed my mechanics. One thing everyone’s always told me is I need to lengthen out my stride, so he gave me things to do,” Hurter said. “I couldn’t really feel it out for myself . . . so he gave me some things and I worked on it. If I were to make a mistake, like pull my body out when I was trying to work on my stride, he’d tell me.”
Straightening out that stride has helped straighten out pitches, not that Hurter’s pitches actually go straight. They move, a lot sometimes, but they’re more often strikes.
That new slider is the cream, and it came as a replacement pitch.
Hurter’s fastball works just fine. Hall says “it runs,” which means it tails away from right-handed hitters and into lefties.
But a guy can’t crank fastballs alone, lest hitters plan on it, and “my curveball was not very good, like loopy,” Hurter said. “I couldn’t throw it with the same arm speed to make it look like a fastball. So, I wanted a slider because it fit my arm slot a lot better.”
Last summer wasn’t the first time he went looking for a slider, but Brant couldn’t find it, at least not until he met Tristan Baker, a Yarmouth-Dennis teammate both like him and not.
Baker is 5-10. But he is a lefty pitcher, and while he threw three seasons at Western Carolina to moderate success, he like Wonders offered some special sauce when he “taught me his grip,” Hurter said. “I tried it out, and the first pitch I threw was pretty nasty, so I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to keep doing this.’
“I was like, ‘Yeah, this is the pitch I’ve been looking for.’ I just had to keep throwing it to figure it out, which ways to make it move and how far and how fast.”
Hurter’s throwing all of his pitches the same distance, although at slightly different speeds with the exception of when he drops in a changeup.
He’s figured something out, and most of his pitches seem nasty.
“I think maybe because of maybe the weight room and things like that he’s throwing harder,” Hall said. “He’s got a much tighter slider, so that’s probably the pitch that has helped him like last weekend, 13 strikeouts [in seven shutout innings against Northwestern].
“He throws hard . . . So, the fastball’s going that way [Hall’s hand veers left], the slider’s going that way [Hall’s hand veers right, and he’s 6-6 so he’s got a lot going for him, and I think mentally he’s just a lot more confident that he can get anybody out.”
That’s true, too.
Maybe the slider has emboldened Hurter. Perhaps the new stride makes him feel better.
Whatever it is, Hurter’s hurling.
“I throw with more conviction now,” he said. “Last year, I was kind of scared to get hit and I tried to place a ball perfectly, which kind of caused me to lose control. This year, I’m throwing it with more conviction and I feel more comfortable with it. I’m more confident, and less scared of hitters.”