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Pitchers fine-tuning for start of season

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East Carolina's Gavin Williams follows through on a pitch against South Carolina during the 2018 NCAA Greenville Regional at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Monday, February 11, 2019

East Carolina baseball’s ninth-year pitching coach, Dan Roszel, doesn’t know exactly how hard Gavin Williams needs to consistently throw a baseball to be most effective.

Roszel also doesn’t care too much about the radar gun when it comes to the 6-foot-6 right-hander from Fayetteville who battled arm issues last year as a freshman. The key word is effective.

“In the strike zone — that’s the main goal,” Roszel said. “I never thought he would throw 100 miles per hour last year (which he did versus North Carolina at Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Feb. 24 before being shut down for a month) and I know he has the talent to do it, but last year he also didn’t have the feel for where it was going every single time. .... Velocity-wise I don’t know if that should mean 90 to 95 or 94 to 97.

“All I want him to be is to have in his delivery and to have in his feel to understand that, ‘Hey, I can put the ball wherever I want to.’ If you have location, location trumps everything.”

Like other key pitchers who were sidelined during the fall, including veterans Jake Agnos and Trey Benton, Williams impressed the coaching staff during the opening weekend of preseason scrimmages.

ECU just held its final scrimmage weekend and begins its season Friday against Radford. Williams, Benton, Agnos, Alec Burleson, Tyler Smith and Jake Kuchmaner all have been battling to earn spots in the starting rotation, which should be finalized in the coming days.

“I was impressed with our pitching staff overall, and our defense,” head coach Cliff Godwin said of earlier scrimmages. “We’ve made some web gems and the routine plays, but it is just good to see the five guys who didn’t pitch all fall to get out there and really, they had good stuff.”

The Pirates also are looking to finalize who is best to serve as closer.

Among the starting candidates, left-handed junior Agnos has the most career starts (24) and 150 strikeouts with 70 walks in 128 innings. Benton has pitched 140 innings, mainly as a starter, and owns a 7-9 career record.

Smith had a breakout sophomore season in 2018, smoothly using his command for a 7-1 record, one save and a 1.78 ERA. Burleson (5-2, four saves, 3.33 ERA) was named the American Athletic Conference rookie pitcher of the year.

Kuchmaner, who is a lefty like Burleson and Agnos, was 4-0 in five starts and five relief appearances.

Williams, who started Sunday’s scrimmage along with Kuchmaner, only pitched 15.2 innings, striking out nine batters with seven walks.

“The ultimate goal is to make sure they all have true feel when they go out there and are able to make one-pitch adjustments,” Roszel said.

While Williams has worked on a new approach to his pitching style as a potential starter, Benton is eyeing a productive and complete season. Benton is not as tall as Williams, but he has similar attributes as a 6-2, 209-pound righty.

“No. 1 is strength to be able to maintain a heavy workload through the year,” Benton said. “This year, coach Godwin and coach Roszel and (strength and conditioning coach) Brandon Golden have really pushed me in the weight room and putting on weight. I just want to be able to handle it throughout the year and not fade, because that has been a thing for me is fading near the end of the year.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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