Coming into the 2013 season, Ball State was hoping that its pitcher, Scott Baker, could take another step forward this season.
Baker didn’t just take a step forward. He turned it into a leap.
Coming off a 2012 season where his ERA was 6.15 and he struggled with putting two good outings together back to back, he’s become a beacon of consistency for the Cardinals this season.
Baker has sprinted out of the gates, earning a spotless 5-0 record.
“We’re all ecstatic for him, the other day as soon as I saw him I just went up and gave him a big hug,” pitcher Chris Marangon said. “Not a lot of guys start off 5-0.”
He’s one of just 13 players in Division I baseball to do so this season.
Last season, there wasn’t a single Ball State pitcher who won five games.
Baker has amassed those wins in exactly one month.
He’s made the transition from bullpen to starter look easy. Sometimes a difficult process, Baker says he believes the biggest reason for his success is being able to get into a rhythm before and during a game.
Relief pitchers usually don’t know if they’re going to pitch until a few minutes before they enter the game. Starters have several days in advance to prepare for taking the mound.
In this process, Baker has lowered his ERA to 1.74. He says the magnitude of what he’s accomplishing hasn’t sunk in yet, mainly because he’s focused on helping the team win and less on individual accomplishments.
“I just need to keep it going throughout the season, and keep my rhythm going,” Baker said. “Just use every day to get better.”
For Baker, getting better means continuing to develop his arsenal of pitches. Coach Rich Maloney has been impressed all season with his variety of speeds and spins, throwing four different types of pitches to keep opponents off guard.
Being able to fire four different pitches across the plate isn’t common in college baseball.
It’s one of the reasons Baker has piled up 34 strikeouts in just 31 innings.
When backed into a jam with runners in scoring position, Baker often strikes out the next batter or two, and it’s becoming a common occurrence.
What pitch does he fall back on when he needs a crucial third strike?
“My slider has been helping me out a lot, it’s been working really well,” Baker said. “My curveball has worked well too, but my slider is probably my go-to pitch in big situations.”
Baker has used those pitches to establish himself as a solid, reliable starter in Maloney’s pitching rotation. Maloney said that a lot of his players had to earn their time, and Baker was a prime example of how to do that.
“If you had told me in the fall that Scott [Baker] was for sure going to be a starter, I don’t think coach Linklater and I would have said yes,” Maloney said. “He developed well and worked so hard, and it’s produced an outstanding result. He’s earned his time here.”
With the prospect of going 6-0 looming this weekend against Akron, Baker says that he can’t help but think about the possibilities of continuing to extend his winning streak.
He mentioned that not looking too far into the future is important, and just focusing on the next game is all he keeps on his mind.
Baker and Marangon both agreed that run support has been a key to Baker’s hot start, because pitching with a lead is easier than pitching with a deficit.
When teams are trailing, they tend to swing at more bad pitches, which leads to more strikeouts and fewer earned runs given up by the pitcher.
With the 1.74 ERA he’s holding, Baker’s play is supporting his team just as much as they’re supporting him.
“His record is proof that we’re getting good run support,” Marangon said. “But it doesn’t diminish that Baker is still doing one heck of a job out there.”
Scott Baker’s season Statistics
5-0, 1.74 ERA, 31 IP, 6 ER, 13 BB, 34 K, opp. BA. .224
Feb. 17: Win, 7 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K
Feb. 23: Win, 5 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 K
Mar. 4: Win, 7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K
Mar. 10: Win, 5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K
Mar. 17: Win, 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 8 K