College World Series: Oklahoma State hurlers ready to go when called
Of the 27 players on Oklahoma State's NCAA Tournament roster, 12 are full-time pitchers.
Through seven tourney games, the Cowboys have used just seven different arms on the mound.
OSU pitching coach Rob Walton's staff has posted a 0.71 ERA in seven NCAA games, allowing only five earned runs in 63 innings. In Omaha, the Cowboys have posted back-to-back 1-0 shutout performances.
Walton said he always believed the OSU staff had the potential to do something special, and they've done just that when it matters most.
"The maturity of the season is a process – how you start is not necessarily how you finish as far as roles are defined," Walton said. "With everybody healthy and going good, it's allowed us to put everybody in the right roles. Guys have fine-tuned some things, and it's fun to watch when guys are executing at that level."
Starters Thomas Hatch and Tyler Buffett have carried the Cowboys on the mound as both are 3-0 in three NCAA starts and have allowed only two earned runs in 45 innings.
The only other Cowboy to start a game in this NCAA Tournament is Jensen Elliott, who will take the ball Friday at 2 p.m. in a CWS game against either Arizona or UC Santa Barbara.
"Watching those first couple games, with the atmosphere, it's incredible," Elliott said. "It's something you always dream about so Friday will be a dream come true.
"I've kind of been able to get used to the atmosphere. If I'd been out there in game one, it'd have been like, 'Oh my gosh, this is a lot of people' and probably would have gotten a lot more nervous than I should."
A freshman right-hander, Elliott is 9-2 with a 3.27 ERA in 16 starts this season. The only NCAA appearance the Texan has made came in the Clemson Regional final, and it was one of his best of the year as he struck out a career-high eight and allowed only one run on four hits in six innings
"(Elliott) has been great," Walton said. "Obviously he pitched great in the Regional so it's just keeping him fine-tuned. He's matured great, and he's a mature kid to begin with. He's had a great year, and if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be here."
Despite the start against Clemson coming nearly three weeks ago – on June 5 – Elliott says he has stayed sharp working with Walton and throwing bullpen sessions.
Those bullpens begin with Elliott working on his fastball command to both sides of the plate and generally last 60-80 pitches. Once his fastball command is consistent, he moves on to secondary pitches. Elliott threw a bullpen Monday before taking the mound for a smaller number of pitches at Wednesday's practice.
"Those (bullpens) are always successful because I learn something every time I do it," Elliott said. "I've just got to stay on my routine. When I get back on the mound, it's just another game so I have to stay within myself.
"I'm always wanting to pitch, but the last two weeks I've loved not pitching. At Super Regionals, I loved not pitching because that meant we were 2-0 and going to Omaha.
"It's a team game, and I just want what's best for the team."
Elliott added that watching Hatch and Buffett dominate opposing hitters has also been a learning experience, and that he leans on the duo for advice.
"It's been incredible – those guys are definitely role models and they come talk to me about what to do," Elliott said. "I guarantee before I start Friday they're going to give me a pep talk and give me tips to be prepared when I get out there."
Elliott's mentality is one shared by all on the staff. OSU has made only 10 relief appearances in the NCAA tourney – five of those by closer Trey Cobb – but junior righty Michael Mertz said the Cowboys' preparation has remained pretty much the same despite the light workload
"We just stay locked in on the game and if our name is called, we've got to be ready," Mertz said. "It's one of those things that we're happy for them, but if it's our turn we're ready to go. (Walton) does a good job keeping us prepared and in the game."
Walton has done that in several ways. One is by playing a simulated game last Wednesday in Stillwater so the Cowboy pitchers could face live hitters before leaving for the CWS. He's also tried to get his pitchers on the mound more often with shorter bullpen sessions to increase their touches.
"When you're not in a game, you lose a little feel for the mound so you try to combat that with throwing bullpens more often but with less pitches," Walton said. "It's definitely more mental than it is physical. Physically, they're ready to pitch, but the actual game itself, when you haven't been in it in awhile, sometimes it feels a little bit abnormal. But at this time of the year, the World Series, when things are at stake, guys understand short series, days off, good starting pitching, those things can happen
"Everybody is pretty happy about how things are going on. They'd like an opportunity to get out there, but I think when their number is called they'll be ready to go."
Mertz has only made one appearance in the tourney, but it was a big one. He worked the eighth inning in the decisive game of the Columbia Super Regional, taking the mound in a 3-0 game with two runners on and no outs and working out of the jam to keep the OSU lead intact.
While Cobb has picked up four saves and tossed nine innings over five outings, Mertz is one of three Cowboys – along with Garrett Williams and Joe Lienhard – to work only one inning over the last seven games. Other key members of the OSU bullpen have yet to take the mound, but you'll hear no complaints from anyone on the staff.
"It's been a blast, so much fun watching those other guys," Mertz said. "Even when they're throwing bullpens, I want to go watch them. We're happy for them – as long as we're winning it doesn't really matter what's going on."