Entering a game with bases loaded is never ideal for a pitcher. Bases loaded with no outs? Even worse. For redshirt freshman Caleb Wurster, it’s just another day at the office. The first pitch to leave his hand in Tuesday’s win over URI resulted in a 1-2-3 double play before a fly ball capped off a normally stressful situation.
“My mindset is always just throw strikes, trust myself, trust my pitches,” Wurster said. “Coach Mac always does a good job of calling the game, so as long as I execute my pitches, I have full faith that I can get the job done.”
And that faith is mutual. An untested rookie entering the season, Wurster had to prove himself to his coaches and teammates. Some 24.1 innings and 21 strikeouts later, he has his whole team behind him.
“He’s been so special for us all year, it’s no secret,” head coach Jim Penders said. “I mean he’s been such a nice, pleasant surprise. Preseason we thought, ‘Oh boy, we might have something special here,’ and he’s really emerged as a guy we completely trust and the guys love seeing him on the mound. He’s competing so hard. Lot of confidence.”
One way for a pitcher to earn that level of trust is to not walk batters. Now a mainstay of the UConn bullpen, Wurster said throwing strikes consistently is what gets him in ballgames. With nearly triple the amount of punch-outs compared to walks (21:8) and a 2.22 ERA, it’s safe to say he’s done his job.
“Executing pitches. As long as they can rely on me to always throw strikes, I’ll always have a position, I feel like,” Wurster said. “It sounds easier than it is, but it can become difficult to fill up the strike zone. As long as you can do that, you can become one of the more reliable guys out of the pen.”
The young southpaw has found a lot of success with his slider. After displaying his normal grip for the pitch, Wurster said his lowered armslot, almost a full side-arm look, has generated more spin on the pitch. A lot of time was spent working on and perfecting the pitch, and Penders has seen the hard work come to fruition.
“Good things come to those who prepare, and he’s a guy who’s really worked hard for everything that he’s gotten and he’s earned it,” Penders said. “Very happy for him, very proud of him.”
Like fellow rookies Karl Johnson, Pat Winkel and Kyler Fedko, the upperclassmen chose Wurster’s warm-up song, “Son of a Preacher Man,” for him because, well, he’s a literal son of a preacher man. He said the song has grown on him, thanks to hearing it 21 times or so, but that’s not the most valuable contribution to come from the veterans.
Wurster finds a lot of confidence knowing what’s coming out of the bullpen behind him. C.J. Dandeneau and Jacob Wallace, the usual eighth and ninth inning combination, help make Wurster’s job easy. Whether he’s entering for a one pitch to get one out, or he’s throwing a career-high three innings (like he did Tuesday), he knows what to expect when he leaves a game.
“It’s definitely helped knowing that like if I can get through those six, seven, eight innings, I got those guys behind me,” Wurster said about his teammates. “We can slam the door on ‘em. Being able to have the confidence to go in, do my job and then the guys behind me are gonna do theirs.”
Those guys are gone come the end of the season. Dandeneau is a graduating senior while the hard-throwing Wallace will likely get drafted in June, leaving the closer’s job wide open for the 2020 season. But that’s a ways off and Wurster knows he has a job to do in 2019.
“I know that closer role is gonna be opening up next year and we’ll see what coach Mac has for me, but as of right now I’m just doing what he wants,” Wurster said.
Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.