With the regular season coming to an end and Regional play in sight, the Arizona Wildcats pitching situation has pretty much worked itself out.
The three starters of JC Cloney, Cameron Ming, and Cody Deason has (for the most part) become set, and the go-to guy out of the bullpen has also established himself.
That man is Michael Flynn, and he’s done it with a newly discovered changeup.
“It was a pitch that I didn’t really have going for me early this year, and obviously watching Major League Baseball and whatnot I realized they all throw nasty changeups,” Flynn said. “So I said ‘Hey I better get going on this’ and might as well start now.”
“Just throwing it hard,” added Flynn about how he’s started to take control of his changeup. “You can’t baby it in there because if you do that it’ll get away from you. Just try to throw it like a fastball, switch my grip up a little bit, and it seems to be working pretty well.”
“I just think he’s got good arm speed,” head coach Jay Johnson said of what makes that changeup so effective. “He’s athletic, and sometimes it just takes throwing it more. Sometimes you put a guy like Cody or Michael in high school with a great fastball, they’re almost doing high school hitters a favor by throwing ‘em a changeup and slowing it down. So sometimes guys come not ready with that pitch developed as well as it needs to be to get college hitters out.”
“Well, now they’ve been under our program for almost two years and you’re starting to see that upward tick with the pitchability and that changeup’s been a key for him.”
Flynn already had a fastball, slider, and curve, but developing a changeup has allowed for more success.
To get the changeup to start working, it took more than just throwing it like a fastball. Flynn messed around with some grips before he finally found one that worked for him.
“It was just kind of trial and error,” he said about that process. “I just tried a bunch of different things, and just one of ‘em clicked and that’s all that needed to happen.”
It clicked about a month ago according to Flynn, which is right around when his strikeout numbers started to balloon out of the bullpen. 21 of his 40 Ks this year have come in his last 19 1⁄3 innings pitched (19 Ks in 26 1⁄3 IP before this stretch).
“Yeah I was surprised that Coach Lawn was calling changeups against righties with that right-on-right, but it’s nasty,” catcher Cesar Salazar said. “It just drops a lot, it has no rotation, and that’s an out pitch. I mean he can use that to strikeout hitters now because they all chase because it has such late movement. It was huge for him to develop that changeup.”
One thing that Arizona has kind of become known for this year is making pitching changes in the middle of at bats, particularly when the count is at 1-2 or 2-2. Pitching coach Dave Lawn said that Johnson makes those decisions exclusively and tries to stay as far away from it as he can.
“It’s a total mind game,” Flynn said about coming in during an at bat. “I think last weekend I came in for JC with a 2-2 count, and we’re completely different pitchers so for him I feel bad but if it’s gonna put us in the right spot you gotta do what you gotta do.”
“In that count, the guy’s probably going to take a pitch because he doesn’t know what I got,” Flynn elaborated on the hitter’s mentality in that situation. “It’s more just throw a strike, give it a chance, and don’t try to do too much with it.”
Flynn has really been strong all year, carrying a season ERA below 3 for most of the time (currently 3.35), but even with a couple of subpar performances against ASU in the past couple of weeks, he hasn’t allowed a run in eight of his last 14 outings.
“I think you can point to his improvement as something that has been great for our team,” Johnson said. “When you talk about the pitch stuff, the angle on the fastball has been really good.
Coach Lawn said that they’ve been working with Flynn to come more from on top of the ball, and that has resulted in better velocity for the sophomore.
“I think he was up to 93 the other night but when it’s tumbling downhill like that it plays at like 94 or 95,” Johnson explained. “Locates both sides of the plate, and I think he just feels good. He’s a well-conditioned player that pushed through some arm tiredness in the middle of the year and he’s pitching his best right now.”
At the beginning of the season, Flynn was more of a starter/reliever hybrid, but now that roles have been more or less settled throughout the pitching staff, he’s gained confidence as a guy who comes in when the pressure’s turned up.
“That’s what I live for right there. Coming in with a couple runners on. I love getting out of those big pressure situations,” Flynn explained. “I just feel like that’s the spot I need to be in.”
“Those innings I come into they can turn into big innings so I just try to give my team a chance and get ‘em back into the dugout as quickly as I can,” he added about his role. “I mean our offense is explosive so if you give them a chance by doing my job out there then everything will be good.”