#TGW: Shake-and-Bake is Yin and Yang

May 2, 2018

by Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

Xzavion Curry and Connor Thomas aren’t much alike, even if the former roommates get along swimmingly, yet they’re almost twin-like in their results on a mound.

Georgia Tech’s 1-2 pitching punch was uncanny last weekend. It was nothing new.

Here’s a primer:

# Curry (7-2, 3.46 ERA) on Monday was named ACC Pitcher of the Week for the second time this season after throwing a complete-game shutout versus Wake Forest on Friday and allowing just two hits with 12 strikeouts in a 7-0 victory for the Yellow Jackets.

# Thomas (5-3, 3.04 ERA) on Monday was recognized as a National Player of the Week by Collegiate Baseball and was named Perfect Game/Rawlings National Pitcher of the Week on Tuesday after throwing a complete-game against the Demon Deacons on Saturday, allowing four hits with a whopping 17 strikeouts in a 5-1 Tech win.

In the wake of Tech’s first two back-to-back complete games by pitchers since 2001, the most interesting fact is how dissimilar Curry is next to Thomas.

Sure, they’re both about 5-foot-11, and pitch. After that, they’re studies in diversity on and off the baseball field. Curry’s a right-hander, Thomas a lefty.

“Zay’s got a power arm. His fastball can run mid-90s . . . ” said Tech head coach Danny Hall. “Connor on the other hand is more of your crafty lefthander, who has to use all of his pitches to get you out. Probably two totally different personalities. Zay is fairly outgoing and can get loud. Connor on the other hand can be real quiet.”

The personalities match the pitchers.

Curry may often be found joking with teammates, and frequently excited about his surroundings. If you’re in the batter’s box, he’s coming after you.

“I’ve always been, `Here’s my fastball; let’s see if you can hit it,'” he said.

Thomas takes a water-torture approach.

“I’ve always been a guy that didn’t throw the ball very hard. I always had to place the ball real well,” he explained. “I always kind of changed speeds, the movement guy. Kind of the crafty lefty.”

Curry and Thomas have taken different paths to Tech’s starting rotation.

Xzavion found himself there right away last season as a freshman from Atlanta’s Mays High School. Hall made him the Friday starter from the jump. Thomas took a while.

Curry went 6-4 with a 5.23 ERA as a freshman in 2017. While he led the Jackets with 74 strikeouts, he also paced the team with seven wild pitches and seven hit batsmen. Most importantly, he surrendered a .293 batting average.

This season, he’s allowing a .221 batting average, striking out 9.8 batters per nine innings, and striking out 6.6 more batters than he’s walking.

“I think it’s more that Zay’s got a year under his belt pitching in the ACC, tough spot to put a freshman in last year where he had to pitch Friday,” Hall said. “I kind of feel like with experience and confidence that he’s comfortable where he’s at.”

Thomas missed the bulk of his freshman season because he was ineligible.

After finals, he made six appearances, to little success, and had an 11.32 ERA.

The smallish (he’s about 160 pounds to Curry’s 190) lefty has figured it out this season.

He came out of the bullpen in his first appearance this season, and has been a starter 11 times since. Thomas has struck out 53 batters over his past five starts. In his past four, he’s allowed five earned runs while going nine innings, 7.1, 6.2 and nine innings each time out.

This season, he’s allowing a .228 batting average, striking out 10.8 batters per nine innings, and striking out 9.9 more hitters than he’s walking. His combined walks and hits per inning allowed rate (WHIP) is a staggering 0.96. Curry’s is 1.12.

“CT obviously missed most of last year, so he was kind of the unknown; not to us because what you saw in high school is what we thought we had with him, a guy that throws a lot of strikes, changes speeds on everything,” Hall said. “Everything kind of moves in different directions. We kind of felt like he had a chance to be really good.”

The numbers are similar as business administration majors. After that, not so much.

Thomas grew up in Omega, Ga., on the border of Tift and Colquitt counties in south Georgia. When he goes home, which he loves, he’s surrounded by open land. There are about 1,200 residents in his tiny town.

“Omega is on the line, nobody is really around me, just me and my family doing life,” he said. “My best friend is on a farm, and I’m always doing stuff there . . . I play video games, I play guitar. I’m out doing stuff. If I’m at home, I’m out doing stuff. I’m never indoors. I have guns to shoot, things to hunt, I’m a big hunting and fishing kind of guy.”

Curry hunts batters. Otherwise, “Off the field, all I do mostly is . . . play Fortnite [a video game] and eat food. If I’m not here or in class, you can probably find me sitting in a big, comfy chair in my room playing Fortnite. Home isn’t really far.”

Thomas plays a few video games, too. So there’s that.

If you study these guys, it will come as small surprise that their team nicknames of Shake and Bake were generated by Curry.

The “Shake-and-Bake” was a move popularized in the Will Ferrell movie “Talladega Nights,” in which auto racing teammates — both of whom were kind of hum-hum-go-lucky off-the-cuff drivers — came up with a move on the track where one drafted the other to slingshot past the field near the finish line.

That’s like Curry and Thomas going righty-lefty back-to-back on the mound, where, for Curry there’s not much strategizing where for Thomas it’s largely about thought.

Even with their differences, they relish one another.

“If he wasn’t on my team, I wouldn’t like to see him pitch,” Curry said. “When he’s on the mound, he’s like a different person. It’s awesome to watch.”

Thomas is of like mind.

“It’s cool to see somebody who does the same thing I do, but in a completely different way,” he said. “Watching Zay just pump fastballs by people, it’s definitely not something that I do so watching him do that completely interests me.”

Hall likes what he has to work with.

“[Thomas] is down there in the country,” the coach said, “and Zay’s a city slicker.”

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