Courtesy of Ohio State Athletics
From giving signs to taking signs, redshirt sophomore David Fathalikhani made a switch that changed his baseball career.
He traded in his catcher’s mitt and took on a new role as a relief pitcher for the Ohio State baseball team.
Fathalikhani came to OSU from Vienna, Va., in 2008, with the intentions of walking on to the team as catcher.
“Originally I just thought I could add more depth to the catching position, and work my way up into some playing time,” Fathalikhani said. “I never really fully expected to be a starting catcher or anything like that. I thought I could compete for some playing time down the road.”
About February or March 2010, Fathalikhani was catching a bullpen session, and for fun he went to the mound to throw five pitches.
“I went up there and threw a few pitches, and I guess they liked what they saw,” Fathalikhani said.
He had the potential to be a pitcher, but it was not until he changed his delivery that it all started to click.
“He was up at a higher angle when we decided to drop him down. It was in the winter right when practice started,” pitching coach Mike Stafford said. “We felt as a staff that David could help us to drop his arm slot down and create movement in his ball.”
After he worked on it for several weeks, the coaches knew they were on to something when they found his arm slot created a little side-arm sink. Then they started working on a second pitch.
“It takes a special guy to make that decision that the coaches think is the best chance to help our team,” volunteer assistant coach Josh Newman said. “He was a leader and a guy that we wanted to see if he could drop down, and he was lights out in the bullpen one time and he hasn’t looked back since.”
“It was a big difference,” Fathalikhani said. “It has given me a lot more movement, a lot more consistency in my delivery, and it’s a lot more off-speed to set up from there.”
He said after the change he threw strikes consistently and was able to induce more ground balls because he was keeping his pitches low in the strike zone.
One of his initial challenges was fighting his habit of a short-arm delivery that catchers have.
“It takes a lot of will and a lot of love of the game to go from one position to another position,” sophomore catcher Greg Solomon said. “But being a catcher is also an advantage if you’re going to be a pitcher because you know pitches and counts.”
He pitched a scoreless fifth inning and struck out a batter in his first appearance Feb. 20 against St. John’s. He relieved starting pitcher Greg Greve in the 8-7 extra-innings win.
“It was fun,” Fathalikhani said. “A lot of hard work had gone into it, two years of working really hard in the weight room. I kind of just realized it’s paying off, and it was a moment to go out there and make the most of it.”
He has become one of the most reliable pitchers coming out of the bullpen for OSU. He has made 20 appearances and his ERA is 3.20.
Fathalikhani attributed his success to the hard work he put into pitching, a positive mentality and guys working hard behind him, but said he is not about to slow down.
“I’m not content with the success I have had so far,” he said. “I’m a competitor; that’s my strength. No matter what the situation is, I think I’m going to be able to be successful and help our team get out of a tough situation.”
Stafford said Fathalikhani continues to succeed because he bought into what he and his staff were trying to teach him and that he “mentally stuck it out.”
With Fathalikhani’s new role comes a more demanding schedule, and he has had to learn how to keep an eye on academics with less time to allocate to them.
“It’s a little tougher in classes now knowing later in the day you’re going to have to throw in a pressure-packed situation,” he said. “You’re not always 100 percent focused on your classwork sometimes. I just try and compartmentalize everything. There’s a world for school — once I get down here I try to put everything behind myself.”
Fathalikhani said he is pretty comfortable now in his new role.
“The first time I went out there I felt a little butterflies,” he said. “Now I have a routine I follow and it’s the same thing for every game.”
his article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 4, 2011
An earlier version of this story stated Fathalikhani has made 15 appearances, more than any other relief pitcher on the team, and his 3.45 ERA is the lowest among them. He has actually made 20 appearances, and is second behind Andrew Armstrong. Fathalikhani’s ERA is 3.20.