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Freshman pitcher skips transition period, jumps right into starting rotation

In the second game of the Ohio State baseball team’s season, coach Bob Todd decided to start Brett McKinney on the mound.

The right-hander instantly impressed spectators by striking out the first three batters he faced. McKinney earned the win, going five innings without allowing a run and striking out eight in the process. That start would be impressive for any pitcher, much less a freshman making his first collegiate appearance. 

For the 19-year-old McKinney, it was a long-awaited, glorious moment.

“It was so surreal. [It was] everything I worked for and everything I worked at,” McKinney said of the win. “My dad and my brother were able to come down and see the game, so that was really cool.”

For McKinney, having his father, Chuck, and older brother, Chad, in attendance was even more special because they are the two most influential people in his baseball career. At the age of two McKinney began playing tee ball with his brother as they both looked up to their father, who played for the Cincinnati Reds.

“Baseball has been in my family forever,” McKinney said. “My dad was a big influence. He’s always been coaching me so it’s nice.”

It’s now Brett’s turn to continue the family tradition of playing baseball. But that wasn’t necessarily always his plan.

At Badin High School, McKinney was a two-sport star, playing baseball in the spring and football in the fall. “I always had the dream I could be good enough in both [baseball and football] that I could choose one or the other,” McKinney said. “As I got older, I realized I wasn’t going to be big enough to play football, so I started to concentrate more on baseball.”

While he might not have the size for football, McKinney is larger than life on the mound. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, McKinney is an intimidator when he toes the rubber for the Buckeyes. And the coaching staff couldn’t be happier that he turned his attention to baseball and OSU.

Both Todd and coach Eric Parker, who works with the pitchers, have been impressed with the freshman so far.

“He’s doing a great job. It’s always an adjustment that first year coming in from high school,” Parker said of McKinney. “He’s working hard, making adjustments and getting better each week.”

McKinney is adjusting quickly to his new surroundings and has already gelled with the veteran pitchers on the team.

“All the upperclassmen have been great helping me out with different things. Everybody has done a great job taking me under their wing and teaching me the tricks,” McKinney said.

Todd will look for McKinney to learn a new trick: moving from the rotation to the bullpen, as the Buckeyes enter Big Ten play this week. McKinney has started in all six of his appearances this season but will now transition to the bullpen as Alex Wimmers, Dean Wolosiansky and Drew Rucinski fill out the rotation.

“He’s come in and given us some quality innings, and he’s trying to be one of the guys that is going to help us either as a set-up guy or a closer. As a freshman that’s awful tough to do, when you make the adjustment from high school to a Division 1 program,” Todd said.

While it may be a tough move, Parker is confident his freshman hurler can do it.

“One thing I really liked about him through the recruiting process is that he has always wanted the ball. He’s ready to take on whatever role,” Parker said. “It looks like we’re going to need him in the bullpen here early. And we feel confident he’s going to be able to handle whatever role we give him.”

Whether starting or relieving, the one thing McKinney can certainly do is strike batters out. In his six appearances, McKinney has piled up 30 punch-outs, which ranks him second on the team and first among Big Ten freshmen.

McKinney and the rest of the staff will look to continue to strike out opponents when OSU hosts Toledo today at 2:05 p.m. at Bill Davis Stadium.

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