Instead of coming out of the bullpen to close games, redshirt junior pitcher Yianni Pavlopoulos will begin the 2017 season as a starter for the Ohio State baseball team.
Pavlopoulos will be starting games for the first time in his college career after being a starter in high school. In 2016, he was the closer for the Buckeyes, leading the team and the Big Ten with 14 saves, while also striking out 34 batters in his 29.2 innings pitched.
With an opponent batting average of .229, Pavlopoulos excelled in the bullpen, according to OSU coach Greg Beals.
“Yianni got great experience in a very competitive role last year, being our closer, being our go-to guy,” Beals said. “Those are tough, competitive innings. So, what he brings to our pitching staff is that experience of being in tough spots. He brings a level of confidence from his teammates, because they know where he has been and what he has done.”
Other pitchers in the starting rotation, including redshirt junior pitcher Adam Niemeyer, know what Pavlopoulos brings to the pitcher’s mound.
“Yianni is just a bulldog — blue-collar mentality, extremely hard worker in the weight room and conditioning, everything,” Niemeyer said. “That mentality, he knows he is better than the hitters, he attacks them and lets his talent do the work.”
With the confidence that coaches and players already have in Pavlopoulos, his approach mechanically is not changing much as his role shifts from the bullpen to the starting rotation. Beals said the coaching staff is just trying to build up his stamina.
“We’ve built his pitch count up, so he has more rest in between his outings, but he is going longer in his outings,” Beals said. “When he was in the closer role, his training at this time of year was two innings max every three days. Now, he’s going four to five innings every four to six days in that rotation. To do that, we’re upping the pitch count and expanding the rest in between.”
With longer outings expected from pitchers in the starting rotation, Pavlopoulos knows that his strategy of what pitch to throw, when to throw it and how hard to throw it is different as a starter than as a pitcher in the bullpen.
“I love my fastball,” Pavlopoulos said. “I like to kind of let it loose more times than not, but you kind of have to find that middle ground at 90 to 95 percent, because it’s not only your arm, but your body and everything else. You can’t have that mindset of just going out there the first inning and giving it, not necessarily everything you have, but trying to be max effort with your fastball.”
Pavlopoulos’ fastball was only one of two pitches he used in 2016 to get hitters out late in games.
“His breaking ball is his second-best pitch, which is a hard breaking ball — which he used a lot last year for strikeouts late in the count as a closer,” said OSU pitching coach Mike Stafford.
With a new role in the pitching staff, Pavlopoulos knew he needed to add a new pitch, a changeup, to give opposing hitters a different look later in games.
“Having that third pitch definitely is an important part of being a starter, once you start going through the lineup two, three, hopefully four times, to have another pitch in your repertoire to show them,” Pavlopoulos said.
The transition might take some time for the right-hander. In his first start of the year in the Buckeyes’ 15-10 win over Delaware on Feb. 18, Pavlopoulos gave up six earned runs on four hits and two walks in 2.2 innings.
However, Pavlopoulos said that is the beauty of being a starter opposed to being a reliever.
“I know, being a closer, you don’t have the luxury of giving up one or two runs because if you give up one or two runs, you lose a game, more times than not,” Pavlopoulos said. “Instead of coming in to close the game, it’s more of a start the feeling of the game, getting the team off on a good note. If you are going to give up a run or two in an inning, you don’t want that to happen, but you can’t let that be the end all, be all as a starter, because you know you have a whole entire game left to play.”