Sports

James Burns: Back in control, Mooneyham hopes wild side is behind him

James Burns, sports editor
James Burns, sports editor

The Washington Huskies had exhausted every option, tried every approach and still...

They couldn't solve this floppy-topped freshman from Stanford.

The scouting report seemed pretty clear, if not damning: Brett Mooneyham was a top pitching prospect out of high school, with a howitzer for a left arm.

But his control was suspect.

The kid was handing out more free passes than a movie PR blitz.

Mooneyham entered Sunday's game against the Huskies on a short leash after disastrous starts against regional-power

Cal State Fullerton and Cal.

Mooneyham walked six batters in a loss to Fullerton and eight more in a no-decision to Cal.

In four appearances, he had a walk-to-strikeout ratio of nearly 2-1.

Not good. At all.

"I never doubted my ability to locate," Mooneyham said. "With the walks, I was just missing the zone. It wasn't like I was all over the place.

"Small miss here. Small miss there."

Fast forward to Sunday evening, under the lights of Stanford's Sunken Diamond.

Were the Huskies seeing the same kid?

Because everything that left Mooneyham's hand had more zip, bend and control than a Six Flags roller coaster.

In short, nothing missed.

The former Buhach Colony star picked up his first collegiate victory that night, etching his name into a special corner in the Stanford record books.

Mooneyham fanned 10 batters in seven strong innings, becoming the first freshman in nearly a decade to pull off the feat.

"That's a difficult thing to do," said Stanford coach Mark Marquess. "That's not normal. We weren't surprised, but it wasn't a performance you expect out of a true freshman.

"Hopefully, it's an indication of what his career will be like here at Stanford."

The Huskies were baffled, reduced to whimpering pups as Mooneyham rotated between his three pitches.

Fastball. Changeup. Slurve.

Shuffle. Repeat.

Mooneyham carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning when a desperate stab from a desperate hitter produced an unlikely basehit.

"David Bentrott," Mooneyham said, even taking the time to spell out the name of Washington's No. 8 hitter. "Oh yeah, I remember."

Just as Mooneyham prepared to throw his first pitch of the sixth, Bentrott squared around to bunt.

"I didn't think he was going to do it," said Mooneyham, who will start on Sunday at Oregon. "But some days, stuff like that happens. When guys aren't squaring up really well on you, they've got to do whatever they can."

That was Washington -- a Division-I program reduced to "whatever you can" against a wild freshman.

Mooneyham let loose with a belt-high fastball and Bentrott caught it perfectly off the bat, dribbling a slow-roller into a dead zone on the infield grass.

Cardinal second baseman Colin Walsh tried to make a bare-hand play, but bobbled the ball.

"I wasn't disappointed," Mooneyham said.

Of course not.

Not only did he pick up his first victory, but his performance validated what the Cardinal coaching staff had been saying all along.

His mechanics were off, if ever so slightly.

"He was pretty darn good when he came to us, but he needed to make a few minor adjustments," Marquess said.

Mooneyham wasn't picking up the plate early enough in his wind-up, which threw off his focus. And his pitch.

The end result: Walks, lots and lots of walks.

Mooneyham spent extra time on the practice mound, working with pitching coach Jeff Austin. The two also dissected videotape, Marquess said.

They weren't rebuilding his delivery; just cleaning up its rough edges.

"It's helped me focus in on the target and have better command of all three of my pitches," Mooneyham said.

"This isn't like in high school, when I could throw fastballs and get it by people.

"Up here, I've got to mix it up -- fastball, changeup, breaking ball. I've got to use them all to be effective."

Like he did on Sunday against the Huh-skies.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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