Mike Eckerle used to be the guy who grew up idolizing Randy Johnson and only caring about striking out batters.
The 6-4 southpaw looked the part, too. He came to LIU Post as a raw freshman with a powerful fastball.
"I thought strikeouts were the only thing that mattered," Eckerle said Tuesday. "But in maturing, I realized that if you can get quick outs, then you can go deeper into games and help your team out."
Now, he's the junior pitcher who knows better.
"Coming into college as the kid from Hewlett High School, I thought I just could overpower everybody," Eckerle said, "but you have to mix up speeds and change speeds and I never really was used to that until I came to college and realized it was a necessity."
The mind-set on the mound has changed, but the strikeout rate, for the most part, has remained.
Eckerle is striking out 10.59 batters per nine innings, a rate that's good for 27th in the country among Division II players. He's 6-1 with a 1.87 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 431/3 innings. Last season he finished 3-3 with a 2.37 ERA and struck out 77 batters in 561/3 innings, walking 23 and holding opponents to a .218 batting average.
Eckerle attributes the statistical improvement this season to a new pitch he harnessed during the summer.
"The most important thing this year is that my changeup has developed," Eckerle said. "It makes my fastball even faster and I've actually been getting a few strikeouts with it, too."
While his fastball touches 90 mph, Eckerle, who also throws a slider and curveball, said his changeup is about 15 mph slower, which messes with hitters' timing. He started throwing the changeup consistently when competing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League during the summer and realizing he was striking out some of the best hitters in the country with it.
He introduced the pitch immediately this season with Post (15-12, 8-7 East Coast Conference) and has already reaped benefits.
"When I came in my freshman year, I never had a changeup, so with the help of my pitching coach Jon Mauchan, I worked on it this summer and I really started throwing it this year," Eckerle said. "It took a three-year process for me to really develop it."
Initially, Eckerle said, he was frustrated with not being able to throw the changeup effectively, but he credited Mauchan for instilling confidence in him and now he's throwing it for strikes with deceptive movement.
"I came in as a raw kid who threw pretty hard and I barely pitched as a freshman just because I was so raw and I came in a little out of shape," Eckerle said. "But I worked hard, developed my pitches and lost some weight. Everything then just clicked for me."