Kent State’s lefties are Golden
Golden Flashes sport all-lefty starting rotation
Kent State boasts one of the best pitching staffs in the nation, but what sets the Golden Flashes apart from the rest is a rarity in baseball – an all-left-handed starting rotation.
Redshirt sophomore Andrew Chafin, senior Kyle Hallock and junior David Starn have compiled a 22-7 record in 36 starts this season, along with a 1.89 ERA, but although they are a trio of southpaws, they all have different looks for opposing hitters.
“The thing that makes them each successful on their own is they each have experience and they’re all very competitive and all have plus, plus stuff on the mound, but they’re all different.,” Kent State head coach Scott Stricklin said.
Chafin, who was the 2009 Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year, sat out last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and a long rehabilitation. The native of Wakeman, Ohio, returned this year as KSU’s Friday night starter, and has not missed a beat. Chafin is the staff’s power lefty, who throws in the low to mid-90s with a power slider. He is 6-1 with a 2.14 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 88 innings pitched, and ranks in the nation’s top 10 in strikeouts per nine innings.
“I don’t hold anything back from any hitter whether it’s the four-hole hitter or the nine-hole hitter … I’m going at him with the same approach,” Chafin said. “I’m just going to bury him into the ground with the 0best pitching I can, and if that doesn’t work out then I’ll go right into the next hitter and not worry about the last one.”
Opponents see Hallock next in the rotation. The native of Sandusky, Ohio, throws 87 to 88 mph with four pitches for strikes, and can occasionally hit 90 on the radar gun. Hallock was drafted in the 49th round by the Philadelphia Phillies last year, and seriously considered signing, but returned for his senior season with hopes of building on the program’s recent accomplishments of three consecutive MAC titles and two consecutive NCAA Regional appearances.
“When it came down to do it, I knew we had a ton of good hitters coming back and a good defense behind me, and I knew our pitching staff was solid,” Hallock said. “Everything just seemed a little bit safer at the time. Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed it with the season we’re having and the guys we have on this team.”
Hallock has improved considerably from last year’s 8-5 mark and 5.64 ERA. He currently leads the team with a 1.74 ERA along with a 9-4 record. In his last outing on May 14, he struck out a career-high 10 batters in a career-long 8.1 innings and moved up to second on the school’s all-time strikeout list with 224.
“It was time to step up and be the pitcher I always wanted to be,” Hallock said. “I wanted to throw strikes and get people out consistently.”
Starn, who hails from Hudson, Ohio, closes a series out with a completely different look that Stricklin compares to the style of former major leaguer Jamie Moyer. He throws 83 to 85 mph with a great change-up and a slider.
“When Starn comes in on Sundays, he’s a softer throwing lefty, but he has such good off-speed pitches, it makes him really hard to hit,” Chafin said.
“They’re all three successful because they’re really good, but they complement each other because they’re all different,” Stricklin said. “A team can’t get very comfortable in a three-game series because every single pitcher is different. They’re all lefties and that makes teams uncomfortable to begin with – you don’t see a lot of left-handed pitching – but then you’re seeing three completely different guys. If teams were seeing three power lefties or three soft lefties, we wouldn’t be having this success.”
As a whole, the Kent State pitching staff ranks in the top 10 nationally in both ERA (2.50) and strikeouts per nine innings (8.61), while junior right-handed closer Kyle McMillen leads the nation with 15 saves – a school season record.
“We’re all strike throwers and pound the zone with a lot of strikes early in the count,” Hallock said. “When we get up in the count, we’re looking for the strikeout and end it right then and there rather than prolong an at bat. We’re trying to be as efficient as possible.”
While the pitching staff has been a key reason for Kent State’s success this season, the No. 28 Golden Flashes (37-13, 19-4 MAC) have an experienced club that is seeking their fourth MAC title (regular season or tournament), and their first regular season championship since 2008. KSU has won 28 of its last 32 games.
“Lately, our hitting has come on really strong and that’s a great thing going into the last week of the season and into the postseason,” Chafin said. “Defensively, we’re playing really well together now. We’re in a rhythm … we’re rolling through opponents.”
Kent State closes out the regular season with a three-game MAC series against Akron beginning May 19.