A typical first-year college athlete usually sees minimal playing time as they adjust to the speed and competitiveness of collegiate athletics.
That hasn’t been the case for the Long Beach State Dirtbags young pitching core this season.
This time last year the Dirtbags had a 9.57 team ERA.
“It’s really nice to have competitive freshman like them that aren’t afraid to go out and get it done like they have been so far,” head coach Eric Valenzuela said. “When they are on the mound, I have trust and faith in them until they let us down.”
The Dirtbags called upon freshman RHP Luis Rameriz March 1 to deliver in a tough predicament; securing a series win against then-No. 6 Mississippi State.
In seven innings pitched against the Bulldogs, Ramirez allowed two runs and showcased his off-speed pitches after the bumpy start in the first inning.
Through 18.1 innings, the freshman is 2-0 and holds a steady 3.44 ERA, good for 14th in the conference.
“Coach Valenzuela is huge on letting us do our thing out there when we are pitching which is awesome,” Ramirez said. “In the off-season, I pitched against the team, I showed coach what I got to prove my spot.”
Valenzuela’s coaching style of the bullpen has been unique to the Dirtbags program, having nearly every pitcher see time on the bump and giving freedom for the pitcher to make the call.
Players have earned the trust to be able to shake off a sign that is given from the catcher, which is unheard of for many programs.
The Dirtbags pitching staff currently holds the second-best ERA in the Big West Conference at 2.44. UCSB currently ranks first with a 1.97 ERA.
“It’s really cool,” Harrison said. “We are able to shake off our catcher’s sign at any time because at times, you’re really feeling a pitch and you go with that.”
With the most appearances and innings pitched out of the bullpen, Harrison is leading all Dirtbags pitchers that have seen significant playing time with a 0.84 ERA in 10.2 innings.
The freshman has struck out 13, given up five hits and only walked five batters in his six appearances.
Before the season’s start, Valenzuela and the coaching staff placed extra emphasis on holding runners on the bases, especially on back picks to second base.
After every pitch, Dirtbag pitchers look to their middle infielders, who give non-verbal cues to let them know if a runner has too big of a lead.
“We take our pre-game very seriously,” Ramirez said, “unlike other teams we have played that just mess around.”
Each of Ramirez’s wins this season have come against NCAA top-25 ranked teams; Mississippi State and Wake Forest. In the three relief innings Harrison pitched against both teams, the freshman didn’t allow a run.
“Part of letting our guys call pitches is to force them to grow up and go with what they feel in the moment,” Valenzuela said. “One thing, why we’ve been so good on the mound, is we can throw any pitch in any count at any time. Our guys still have a lot to learn but we are off to a good start.”
The Dirtbags will travel to New Orleans, Louisiana to take on the Tulane University at Greer Field at Turchin Stadium starting March 13 at 4:30 p.m.