Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Lantern: Hale goes in and out of bullpen

Zack Meisel
Issue date: 4/14/09

One simple question has mystified Ohio State baseball coach Bob Todd for the past four years: Is 6-feet-6-inch flamethrower Jake Hale better suited as a starting pitcher or a closer?

"If I had my choice, I'd be a starter," the senior pitcher said. "I like to be in the game a lot. But as a closer, I'm getting a lot of opportunities to have a lot of appearances and be able to throw every day, so I really can't complain about that either."

Hale launched his Buckeye career atop the mound as a starter, coming out of the bullpen in just three of his 14 appearances during his freshman campaign.

Todd needed Hale's durable arm in relief the following year, and the towering righty pitched in 22 of his 26 games out of the 'pen.

Hale returned to his starting role as a junior, opening games in all but one of his 12 appearances.

Now a senior, the lanky hurler might have uncovered a permanent position as a closer. Serving as the pitching staff's last line of defense, Hale leads the Big Ten with seven saves, 20 appearances, an earned run average of 1.48 and an opposing batting average of .178. Each statistic is indicative of his dominance during the closing innings.

As a reliever, Hale benefits from the ability to use all of his pitches, knowing he likely won't face a hitter more than once.

"Moving me into the closer role, I get to show all my pitches the very first time around, because I'm probably not going to see that guy ever again. As a starter, you get to use all of your pitches, but you spread it out. You'll throw your fastball and changeup for the first two or three innings until someone catches on."

Alternating between starting and relieving hasn't been a simple transition. A pitcher must alter mental and physical training regimens, Hale said.

"As a starter, you have to stretch out your bullpens and do a lot more endurance training," he said. "As a closer, you just go out there and give it your all for an inning or two. You just have to train yourself to rebound as fast as you can to be able to throw the next day as well."

At first, Hale wasn't thrilled with the idea of moving into the bullpen.

"I wasn't too keen on it when I was first brought into it," he said. "But now I look back on it and think it was a good idea."

Todd said Hale's adverse attitude toward the initial switch played a factor in him moving back into a starting role as a junior.

"We tried to turn him into a closer two years ago and it made his [draft] stock go higher," he said. "But he didn't really have the right attitude. He did it, but he really wasn't sold on it. Now he's realized that the quickest way to get the attention of the pro people and to help himself is to go back and be the closer. So he's really taken a different attitude."

The Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians have each drafted Hale in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, but Hale has elected to remain a Buckeye and finish his collegiate career.

While Hale has entered each season amid uncertainty about his role on the staff, the versatility garnered from his diverse responsibilities has added an important facet to his game that professional teams covet.

"The versatility makes a huge difference," he said. "To be able to look at a guy and say, 'Well, there's a couple of spots we need to be filled, and having him in our organization, he could either fill one spot or another. He's been in both situations.' That's a great thing to have."

Hale also favors the mental approach that relievers must take, as it suits his easy-going personality.

"As a starter, you're thinking about the game way before it starts, and preparing for it," he said. "The game's on you - you start it off. As a closer, I'm one of those guys who turns it on right when I need to. I'll be goofing around before the game and keeping everybody loose, but whenever it's my turn to go in, I flip the switch."

Through his first three seasons, Hale totaled 52 appearances, split evenly among starting and relieving. Now, as OSU's owner of the ninth inning, Hale has found a stable spot among the pitching staff, finally providing the answer that has for so long evaded him and his coach.

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