April 21, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Next Game: Tonight, at Mercer, 6:00 p.m.
Ben Parr isn’t one to get burned twice in the same place — or by the same hitters.
When the freshman left-hander from Social Circle, Ga., (George Walton Academy) takes the mound tonight to face the Bears of Mercer University, at Claude Smith Field in Macon, he expects to be a much wiser pitcher.
There’s precedent. Parr points to his second start against Georgia State as the point in his freshman campaign where he felt he began to grasp things.
“The first time I faced them I started off really shaky then it went better,” he said. “The second time I faced them I kind of had some confidence and I’ve carried it into my next starts.”
It’s difficult to find a point where Parr has struggled, as he enters the game with a 4-1 record, riding a three-start winning streak, and a 2.10 ERA.
That “really shaky” start, on March 19, resulted in him going 5.0 innings, allowing two earned runs and three hits, striking out four and not walking a batter. He threw 41 of his 63 pitches for strikes in earning his first college win.
Those really aren’t bad numbers and look even better when you consider that was his first college start and leading up to that point he’d made five appearances in which he threw a total of 2 2/3 innings and 64 pitches. Regardless, he was intent on improving on that outing, and did so three weeks later at Russ Chandler Stadium, when he threw 5 2/3 shutout innings, allowing five hits, striking out two vs. four walks, throwing 92 pitches, 57 for strikes.
While the strikeouts-to-walks ratio wasn’t necessarily to his liking, there was definitely a comfort level and an improvement, as he was getting stronger and going longer (92 pitches, up from 63).
Of course, Parr won both starts, so the urge to avenge wasn’t as strong against the Panthers as it will be when he tries to help Tech avert a season sweep at the hands of the Bears for the second time in four years. The 2011 sweep by Mercer ended a Yellow Jackets 17-game series-winning streak and was only the second time Georgia Tech suffered back-to-back losses in the series since they lost the final game of 1989 and the first of 1990.
Personally, Parr will have a burr under his saddle, as Mercer gave him his only loss of the season. It came on March 25 at Russ Chandler Stadium. He was hardly touched, allowing two runs (only one earned), and four hits over five innings, striking out five and walking two, throwing 100 pitches, 62 for strikes.
Taking his success the second time around against Georgia State into account, Parr is confident he has a game plan that will work more effectively against Mercer.
“I kind of know what Mercer likes and what they don’t like. I’m definitely hoping to pitch them a little bit differently this time,” he said. “I made some mistakes in my first start against them, versus how I think that I should pitch them this time.”
Parr has earned the right to be confident. He’s on a roll, as since the Mercer game, he’s pitched into the sixth inning in all three starts, and has allowed but one run over 17 2/3 innings, a not-too-shabby 0.71 ERA. He’s struck out 18 and walked seven — with 16 of the strikeouts coming in the last two outings, including a team-season-high nine K’s against Georgia Southern on April 8.
“I’ve really started to trust my pitches and trust what I was throwing,” he said. “At the beginning I was trying to work on command a little too much, kind of hanging the ball. Now I’m just throwing it and aiming for a third of the plate instead of trying to paint corners all the time.”
Now, instead of painting corners he’s painting masterpieces. The confidence with which Parr is throwing isn’t surprising to Assistant Coach Jason Howell.
“It’s a learning curve for all the guys,” said Howell. “They get out there and they don’t experience success at first and then all of a sudden they start having that success and then start gaining confidence and that sort of snowballs with them. They don’t have to try to do more than they are capable of. Just go out and pitch their game. It usually translates into good things. Ben does a great job of staying within himself with that and he’s just gaining confidence with each outing.”
His confidence was at his highest his last time out, last Tuesday, when he made his first start against Georgia at Russ Chandler Stadium. Despite chilly temperatures, he threw six shutout innings, allowing only four hits, striking out seven and walking two in the 4-1 win. As impressive was that he threw a career-high 114 pitches (69 for strikes).
“It was a big opportunity and I’m really glad I get to have it as a freshman,” he said about pitching against, and beating Tech’s arch-rival. “It was like a big weight on my shoulders and I’m glad we could pull one out and even the series.”
He’ll get a chance to help Tech win the series when he faces Georgia in the Kauffman Tire Classic for Kids on May 13, at Turner Field. You could call it a perk of being the midweek starter. For Parr it something much bigger.
“It’s probably going to be surreal,” he said. “Just kind of going to Braves games my whole life, I never really viewed myself as getting to go out there and throw on the hill. So definitely getting to go out there and maybe throw against Georgia would be a dream come true.”
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