New Kid on the Block: Why Fraze has earned the Saturday role
Photo from Texas State Athletics
Welcome to college baseball.
That was essentially what freshman pitcher Nicholas Fraze heard as then-No. 22 ranked Oklahoma State drilled him for five earned runs in four innings during his second-career start back on February 26.
A week prior he gave up six earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings against Purdue, but head coach Ty Harrington stuck with him knowing the Hebron product would work through it. After all, Harrington trusted what he initially saw over the course of fall training.
Fast forward a few weeks later and Fraze was staring down defending national champion Coastal Carolina in a series-deciding contest on March 19.
It was an early wakeup call to the freshman starter who was a late signee to Texas State’s roster in July of last summer.
Any pitcher would be intimidated facing that competition early on, but did it ever rattle him? Not really. But it did put him on notice.
“There was a point where I was like, ‘Wow this is a lot different,’” Fraze said. “That’s when I realized when you miss your spot, they make sure you know. That’s when I started learning that I can’t really miss my spot and have to hit the corners and stuff like that.”
Since his rocky introduction, Fraze has made a significant turnaround. Out of his last six appearances, he’s earned five quality starts. It was enough to elevate him from Sunday to Saturday’s starting role.
“Even when he wasn’t pitching as well as he has been, he showed great confidence and great competitiveness,” Harrington said. “That’s why we stayed with him because he kept showing that he was confident and competitive and would get better and he certainly has.
“When we saw him throw when he first got here in the fall, you can see he had a chance to be good. But…there’s that dynamic of being able to take that to the field in a real-life game against real-life competition.”
Although Harrington and pitching coach Jeremy Fikac were satisfied with Fraze’s potential during the fall, Fraze wasn’t. It wasn’t until he started a few intra-squad scrimmages when he realized that he had a shot at a weekend starting spot.
Texas State lost 90 percent of its production on the mound from last season and were looking for reliable arms to throw on weekends.
“I can't imagine where we would be without him,” Fikac said after Texas State’s win over UL-Monroe last Saturday. “He gets us to the sixth, seventh inning in those final conference games, which saves our bullpen. Usually in those weekend series, that's when you have to start going to your fifth, sixth or seventh bullpen arm, but he's gone out there and he's continuing to get better. He's so competitive. He doesn't want to come out of those games. He's been great for us. He's giving us everything he's got."
In his last six outings, Fraze’s ERA is 3.07 which is lower than Friday starter Connor Reich’s during that same stretch (3.77) and would put him 11th in the conference. One mental adjustment Fraze was forced to make was realizing that, especially as a freshman, he wasn’t going to match his high school workload of 10 to 12 strikeouts per game. The former All-State pitcher racked up 94 strikeouts his senior season and went 9-1 as a starter. He has just 24 strikeouts to his name this season, but playing in front of one of the Sun Belt’s best fielding teams (fourth-best fielding percentage in the conference) certainly eased him into that transition.
“It was just all learning experiences. From Purdue, my first two innings were real good then you kind of realize they’re college hitters and are a lot better than high school,” Fraze laughed. “You realize you have to hit your spots to get through the innings and that’s just what I’ve been kind of been doing lately and it’s been working.”
It also helps knowing that Texas State’s offense (first in the SBC in team batting average), is going to have his back when times get tough. Take last weekend for example. Fraze gave up a first-pitch bomb against ULM, but his team responded during their first at-bat to take the lead. Fraze gave up just two more runs off two hits in his last six innings.
“…I wasn’t worried at all because I knew our offense would come back and score the next inning and that’s what they did,” Fraze said. “Then they always hit when I need them to and that’s great."
If all else fails, Fraze has an ace-in-the-hole that Harrington knows can get out of any jam. When Fraze gets in a bind, he can rely on a sinking fastball that he’s gained better command of over the course of the season.
“He’s learned that if he throws that thing in there at the knees, it has the potential to get somebody out every time,” Harrington said. “That’s been the thing for me is he’s started recognizing that hey if I get in a bind, I can always throw this thing in there and possibly create a ground-ball out.”
By moving Fraze up to the Saturday slot, Harrington shows a lot of faith in the first-year pitcher. Theoretically it isn’t out of the realm of possibility to see him eventually man the top Friday slot by the time his career is done.