Prior to the season-opening series against Northern Illinois, Boston College head coach Mike Gambino made the decision to start Jacob Stevens in the third game in Glendale, Arizona. Although he had a big arm in Thomas Lane available, the decision was made that Stevens, at that point, was going to be the Sunday starter to begin the season.
There's a solid thought process behind the decision. Since the baseball season is incredibly long, it didn't need to be permanent. Stevens could get a couple of starts to start the year, see how he acclimated to the collegiate game, and be analyzed by the staff on an appearance-by-appearance basis. The rationale was that a couple of good outings could lead to riding the hot hand as long as it would take them.
It's safe to say he's acclimated nicely.
Stevens started the season with a streak of 29 innings without an earned run allowed. After allowing his first earned run of the year against Clemson, the final batter of his fifth start, he allowed only one other earned run the following week at Pittsburgh. It took until his eighth start of the season for a team to tag him for multiple runs, a four earned run output by Notre Dame last week. When it tripled his ERA, it's because it went from 0.45 to 1.17
After mowing through the vaunted Louisville lineup yesterday, Stevens' ERA is back to threatening the below-1.00 mark at 1.02. He was named to the Golden Spikes Watch List. He's arguably the best starting pitcher this year in the ACC, and he just overshadowed one of the guys (Brendan McKay) who might have an argument to that throne while another - Drew Harrington - pitches on Saturday.
So who is this guy?
A native of Darien, Connecticut, Stevens came to Boston College from Choate Rosemary Hall. He was a 2015 Honorable Mention All-American, and he was an All Region 1st team selection for the Northeast. He came with the reputation of being a heavy ball pitcher, a guy who didn't necessarily overpower hitters with velocity as he did induce them to make bad decisions. The ball could explode off the bat...then die a painful death. If they didn't beat it into the ground, batters would hit fly balls that would lose wind as they rose.
That's something that's been developed and enhanced in his freshman campaign. Working with pitching coach Jim Foster, Stevens has gone from a 6'2", 220-pound recruit to a 6'3", 245-pound monster with a slurve.
"Jake just seems to do what he does every week when he executes," said Mike Gambino following Stevens' seven-inning shut down performance of Louisville's vaunted lineup. "That's a lineup that has a few future big leaguers in it, and the kid can just pitch. That's what we saw in him coming out of high school, and when you put him with Jimmy Foster and you watch his development, it's been just awesome."
Stevens came to BC as the best recruit out of the state of Connecticut, per Perfect Game. Ranked #1 in the Nutmeg state, he was the 76th best right-handed pitcher. He recorded a fastball ranging in the low 90s with breaking pitches in the high 70s and an offspeed pitch. That meant instead of blowing pitches by hitters, he had to work around, them spotting the control while changing velocities to keep bats guessing.
"He can move a fastball to both sides," said Gambino, "and he can go in or out, up and down, change speeds. It's fun to watch, isn't it?"
Because the burly right-hander isn't going to blow a pitch by anyone quite yet, pitching becomes more cerebral. It becomes about sitting down and scouting opposing hitters, then working on a game plan. Once it's in place, it becomes about execution from both the dugout to the battery and vice-versa.
For example, during his bullpen session this week, Stevens, who hadn't been able to throw a slurve (slider that looks like a curve) with consistency over the past couple of starts, worked on its execution. On Friday, he threw it with perfection, inducing 11 fly ball outs in seven innings of work.
"Coach Foster and I put together a game plan at the beginning to try and attack (Louisville) to see what their weak spots were," said Stevens, "so we definitely wanted to establish the fastball early. As the game went on, we found a couple of holes; Coach Foster called good sequences, and we kept them off balance working the changeup and curveball into more at-bats."
"The thing (with Jacob) is that you can give him something, and he works on it and trusts what he's doing," said Gambino. "Then he goes out and executes it. He and Coach Foster will go and work on some things; he can throw a couple of 3-2 changeups and work the breaking ball in if he needs to. He's getting to the point where he can pitch backwards if he needs to."
For Stevens, a season that started as an unknown #3 starter is ending with him as a Friday starter in the nation's best baseball conference. As a freshman, it means he's facing off with some of the best lineups in the league, opposing the best pitchers on weekly basis. Partially due to his success, Mike Gambino and Jim Foster were able to reconfigure their rotation on the fly, stretching Justin Dunn for longer outings in a move to the rotation while Mike King faces the hypothetically-favorable Sunday matchup. Not that it matters to the righty.
"It was exciting (to pitch on Friday), but every game in the ACC is exciting," said Stevens. "It's another day to pitch against a good lineup, and I just want to be ready to go out there and compete (regardless of day)."