Tale of two pitchers: Wilkinson, Peterson
May 19, 2013 11:20PM
Updated: June 21, 2013 6:27AM
When Ryan Wilkinson signed with Toledo three years ago he was surprised to learn he wasn’t the only Northwest Indiana pitcher on the Rockets’ roster.
Griffith’s Matt Kuna, now pitching for the Schaumburg Boomers, preceded him on the welcoming committee. Talk about a round-about introduction. Though they were conference rivals in high school they never met before college.
“It was a complete coincidence,” said Wilkinson, who hails from Munster, but never pitched against Kuna because of their age difference. “I was a freshman and he was a senior.”
The Northwest Indiana tandem parted company after notching five victories apiece to inspire a 19-8 record in the Mid-American Conference. Kuna left with all-conference honors, then made a strong rookie impression with the Boomers, who finished 54-32 in their first season with the Frontier League
Wilkinson appreciated having a “big brother” on the roster.
“Matt really helped me adjust to college in my freshman year,” said the junior lefty. “He was a calming influence.”
Added perks? “It was fun trading stories (about high school).”
Wilkinson replaced him as the flag bearer for the Rockets, who qualified for their fifth straight MAC tournament over the weekend.
Crunching the numbers, his 5-2 record in the MAC provides a modest starting point. He’s averaging better than eight innings per start with a glittering 1.32 ERA. Opponents are batting .193 against him.
Throwing strikes is Wilkinson’s trademark. Pinpoint location adds to his effectiveness. While staying away from the middle of the plate, he issues a walk about as often as the cost of living decreases.
“I’m not overpowering so I’ve got to throw strikes,” he said.
Five walks in 70 innings confirms his success.
Coach Cory Mee appreciates Wilkinson’s efficiency.
“Ryan’s always ahead in the count and gives us a chance to win every time out,” said the 11-year veteran. “He makes the other team earn it. Our team loves to play defense behind him.”
Coming into the MAC tournament on a roll, Wilkinson has worked eight innings in four consecutive starts. In his most recent outing he blanked Ball State.
Consider him a perfectionist.
“He’s never satisfied, always trying to get better,” Mee said.
Driven to improve, Wilkinson worked hard to add a slider to his repertoire. It took him nearly six months to reach a comfort zone with that pitch, which has been a huge addition.
At first he limited its use to left-handed hitters, but now he trusts it enough to nibble on both sides of the plate.
Wilkinson served his apprenticeship in the bullpen as a freshman. Two years later he’s graduated into one of the premier pitchers in the MAC.
“He’s been great for three years, the last two as a mainstay in our rotation,” said Mee. “He’s a coach’s dream.”
Power to the Pumas
Honors are stockpiling for St. Joseph’s Jordan Peterson since he became the program’s third player since 2005 to be named the Great Lakes Valley Conference pitcher of the year.
A 7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 1.59 ERA propelled him to a 9-2 record. His report card includes eight complete games.
The Chesterton grad was anointed midwest region pitcher of the year and is a semifinalist for top player in Division II. He was nominated for the national award during finals week on the Rensselaer campus.
“I was taking an exam and somebody tweeted me about it,” said Peterson, who played his high school baseball for long-time coach Jack Campbell.
At Chesterton he doubled as a first baseman who batted third when not pitching. He credits Campbell with tweaking his delivery for a major upgrade.
“When I was a junior he (Campbell) changed my arm slot to over-the-top,” he said. “I started throwing much harder.”
Peterson’s velocity climbed to the 85-87 mph range. Much like Toledo’s Wilkinson he also added a slider to make him less predictable.
“Got a lot of outs with it,” he said. “The slider’s been effective, but I’ve got to stick with my fastball.”
This spring Peterson averaged nearly a strikeout per inning for the Pumas, who increased their win total from 17 to 30. He walked only 11 in 96 innings.
Coach Rick O’Dette likes his all-business approach to pitching.
“Once he gets the ball in his hand he’s as consistent as they come,” he said. “I’m not surprised he was nominated with the year he had. He deserved it.”
Baseball savvy figures in his development. That means fine-tuning his mental approach.
“I was one of those kids who threw helmets,” said Peterson, who described himself as a hothead early in his baseball life. “I got past that, but would get on the umpires in high school.”
And now? “I think I’m pretty mellow on the mound.”
Moving from high school to college can be unsettling, but Peterson obviously made the transition. He did miss playing first base, but that’s no longer an issue.
“It was a little weird converting to just pitching,” he said, “but I got over it.”
Sports information director Ken Badylak cites his willingness to do more than just pitch. What he saw in a tournament at Evansville convinced him that Peterson is a good character guy.
“They didn’t have enough people to get the tarp out during a rain delay,” Badylak recalled. “He was one of the first people out of the dugout to help and he had just thrown a complete game, 10 innings the day before.
“Then he’s out there with a rake spreading diamond dry on the infield, getting it ready to go. It’s just nice to see a kid that caring.”
Long ago venerable manager Leo (The Lip) Durocher said “nice guys don’t win pennants.” Hopefully, Wilkinson and Peterson will prove him wrong.