Making his pitch

Fruita grad Drew Bridges thriving at pitcher for Lobos

Drew Bridges thought he would be playing third base during his freshman season at the University of New Mexico, but after showing off his strong arm, the Fruita Monument graduate was moved to pitcher. Bridges, who pitched some in high school, has made six appearances — four starts — and his coach, Ray Birmingham, believes Bridges has a future as a pitcher.

After impressing his University of New Mexico coaches with his arm strength on a throw from third base to first during fall practices, Drew Bridges has grown into a solid starting pitcher for the Lobos.

When Drew Bridges was a little kid, just like every baseball player, he dreamed of making the big play in the big game.

He was the guy with the game-winning hit or making the spectacular play for the third out in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the World Series.

Those little-boy daydreams never had him standing on the mound. He wasn’t the guy staring down the cleanup hitter and throwing the dramatic third strike.

But during a scrimmage this past fall at the University of New Mexico, the freshman infielder ranged into the hole, fielded a ball in short left field and threw out one of New Mexico’s speediest runners. Lobos coach Ray Birmingham did a double-take.

A pitcher was born.

“Honestly, it was a big adjustment,” said Bridges, who graduated last spring from Fruita Monument High School. “There are two total mentalities to have. Even compared to pitching in high school and summer, these hitters are Division I hitters. It’s a lot different than high school.”

He started out throwing bullpen sessions, working with pitching coach Dan Spencer. When spring rolled around, he made his first appearance March 6 against LaSalle, throwing two innings of relief in the Lobos’ 17-4 win.

Three days later, he made his first start, throwing three innings against UC-Riverside.

“It was a little rough at first,” Bridges said.

He gave up four runs on four hits, walked four and struck out one. He also had a balk and hit a batter, but the Lobos ended up winning 10-7.

Another relief appearance, then another start, an 8-2 loss to Missouri State.

April, though, has been a good month. He started against Texas Tech and threw five solid innings to get his first win, 10-3. He allowed two runs on two hits, struck out three and walked two.

A week later, on April 9, Bridges got the ball against Arkansas, the preseason No. 1 team in the nation and at the time, ranked No. 10.

On the road, with his parents, Richard and Ivy Bridges, in the stands, the 6-foot-4 freshman shut down the Razorbacks on three hits in 5 1/3 innings in a 3-0 win.

“It’s funny, because my mom always worries about me and now she’s like, ‘Oh, gee, you have to pitch against the number 10 team in the nation,’ ‘’ Bridges said. “I remember (saying) ‘No, this is a good opportunity just to see how far I’ve come and how far I have to go.’ “

Don’t worry, Mom.

Bridges threw 101 pitches, his longest outing yet, struck out three, walked only one, and got the win to improve to 2-1. His ERA, which started out at 7.20, has dropped to 4.35.

He was selected the Mountain West Conference pitcher of the week after that outing.

“I think now I’m more settled down,” Bridges said. “Against Arkansas, even though they were the number 10 team, I felt a lot more confident in myself, more like a pitcher than I have before.”

He’s made a believer of Birmingham, who said if Bridges continues to progress, he can be a high draft pick — as a pitcher — after his junior year, when he’s eligible for the amateur draft.

“When he told me that it was kind of a shock,” Bridges said. “It’s always been a dream from the beginning, and to hear that from a guy whose players have been drafted and made the show ... It’s exciting and at the same time, to get there I have to work hard. It’s not just going to happen. I have to go out and get it.”

The only thing that surprises Birmingham about Bridges is how quickly he’s adapted to pitching.

“That’s the crazy thing,” Birmingham said. “He’s picked up on it right away, touched 95 (miles an hour), throws lots of strikes and has great location. The kid wants to learn.”

Eventually, Birmingham said, Bridges could see some time in the infield, but when a freshman can throw 95 with control ...

“We can use him doing both as the years go on, he might do both,” Birmingham said. “We want to do what’s best for the club and for him. He throws 95 and throws downhill with tilt and throws strikes.

“Fastball, curveball and change. He’ll throw a two-seamer (fastball) every once in awhile and it’s just dirty. It’s unbelievable how quick he’s picked it up.”

Bridges pitched in high school and late last summer for Gene Taylor’s American Legion team, but always felt his future was as a hard-hitting third baseman.

He worked with former Iowa coach Duane Banks when he was in high school, and they talk after every game Bridges pitches.

They used to talk about his approach at the plate. Now, “He gives me advice on what to do, how to attack hitters.”

Bridges, who started but did not get the decision Friday night in a 5-2 win over Nevada, would gladly take his turn at third if needed, but for now…

“If it’s a better chance to go farther as a pitcher than a hitter, I can’t turn that down,” he said. “Anything can happen. If they need another position player net year in the fall, I have an opportunity to go back at it again, that would be great. If not, I’ll focus on pitching.”

He does missing batting practice, though.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, laughing. “It’s a lot different shagging bp than hitting it, but it’s part of the job.”


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