Mavericks’ relief: Amidei turns things around in bullpen heading into today’s game vs. Kearney

Mesa State relief pitcher Jack Amidei warms up during practice Wednesday at Bergman Field. After a rough start to the season, Amidei is on track and has a shot at earning the Mavericks’ closer role.

Jack Amidei did not have a memorable start to this baseball season.

The senior right-hander, though, has turned things around — and then some.

Mesa State coach Chris Hanks grinned and whistled when talking about Amidei’s past few outings for the Mavericks.

“He was good in all three appearances at Pueblo. He looked just like he did against Regis (3 innings, two hits, five strikeouts and his first win),” Hanks said.

Amidei entered the first game of last week’s series against CSU-Pueblo in the bottom of the eighth inning with two out.

One batter, one strikeout. The Mavericks lost the game 2-1, but Amidei gave them a chance by leaving two runners stranded.

In the second game, he relieved Chris Shea in the bottom of the seventh, again, with two out and two runners on. Again, one batter, one strikeout. Shea picked up the win, Amidei his first save of the season.

And in the series finale? He faced four batters over the final 11⁄3 innings, getting four ground balls for another save.

“That’s the position you want to be in,” Amidei said Tuesday before practice. “It’s the end of the ballgame, it’s where everybody wants to be, pitching with the game on the line. It’s exciting.”

It’s a far cry from those first few games, when just about everyone was struggling, including Amidei, who redshirted last season on a senior-laden team.

In his first four appearances, Amidei had thrown three innings, allowing eight runs, all earned, on six hits. He had walked five and struck out three and had an ERA of 24.00.

His past four appearances, though, he’s got one win, two saves, seven strikeouts, no walks and hasn’t given up a run in five innings. His ERA has dropped to 9.00.

Amidei had given up a two-run double in the ninth inning of a 9-7 loss to Metro State and a three-run home run in the seventh inning of an 11-9 loss to the Roadrunners.

“After those first couple of mistakes to Metro, I was having a tough time swallowing it,” he said. “Peter Arakawa said the next day is going to show up and we have to come out the next day. Life is bigger than making that one pitch, and as much time you can spend dwelling on it, that’s not going to help you succeed the next day.

“He really helped me put it in perspective and refocus my energy on what I could do to improve the next day.”

And it wasn’t just what he did during bullpen sessions, Hanks said, that helped Amidei improve.

“What I’m proud of even after those rough outings, he never came in and politicked or begged for another chance,” Hanks said. “He just worked harder, not just out here, not only in baseball things, but he’s the first guy to grab a rake and fix the mound after practice, or he’s the first guy to grab a fungo when an infielder needs ground balls. The first guy, not the second, ever, always the first.

“He continued doing things to help the team even though his performance wasn’t helping the team. He’s getting what he deserves.”

What he deserves, Hanks said, is a shot to be the Mavs’ closer as they open a four-game series at 7 tonight in the annual Game of Hope against Nebraska-Kearney (18-12, 7-8 RMAC) at Suplizio Field. Proceeds from tonight’s game are donated to the American Cancer Society.

“I think he is until something changes,” Hanks said.

Mesa State (16-9, 12-5 RMAC) has won 11 of its past 12 games and the past three conference series.

The RMAC teams take Easter Sunday off, so the teams play a doubleheader starting at 3 p.m. on Friday and one game at noon on Saturday.

Hanks and pitching coach Jeff Rodgers changed things up in practice to get the relievers in the right frame of mind to pitch under pressure.

Instead of bullpen sessions, they pitch one live inning in practice. Focus on that inning, they were told, and that inning only.

It seemed to do the trick — the Mavs’ team ERA has dropped from 9.24 to 6.52. The starters had thrown five complete games through the first 17 games. In the past eight games, they’ve had to go the distance only once.

“Our starting rotation has been lights-out all season, absolute horses,” said Amidei, a former starter. “They’re going deep into games and the relief pitchers have a sense of when we’re going to be called.

“The whole season they’ve been mowing people down, so when they call us, we have to be ready to go in and take care of business.”


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