Friday, March 1, 2024

Traxel’s Unusual Delivery Baffles Opposing Hitters

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West Virginia University baseball pitcher Blaine Traxel delivers a pitch during a recent Mountaineer game.

MORGANTOWN — He is part Bill Lee, part Nolan Ryan, this West Virginia pitcher, Blaine Traxel, yet he is a one-of-a-kind pitcher in an era where neither Lee nor Ryan would fit.

Lee, of course, was known as “Spaceman”, for he was far more Mork or Alf than your average pitcher … and yes, he was left-handed.

And Ryan, of course, with a flame throwing workhorse who pitched seven no-hitters and complimented that with 12 one-hitters, meaning it is not insane to think he might have managed 19 no-hitters in his career without changing much.

Now watching Traxel work is far more Bill Lee than Ryan. He is, shall we say, more a junk baller, his best hitting 86 miles an hour. And while Lee was known for his blooper pitch, Traxel is known for his sidearm delivery.

And, like Lee, he is a fun-loving sort who makes you wonder what’s coming next.

Last time out, on a windy day, he lost his cap a couple of times and went to doo rag under it.

“During the week, it was funny, they were telling me to wear it when I pitch. I thought it would be funny if I wore it but I wasn’t ready for the jokes. Then the wind blew my hat off a couple of times and I felt, I need something, so I slipped it on.

He first tried to find another hat that fit, “but I’m kind of an in-between size, so I figured the easiest thing was to put something on under it.”

And it worked well enough that he pitched his fourth complete game of the season in an era when complete games are becoming obsolete, running his record to 5-1 and dropping his ERA to 2.02 as he takes the mound this weekend at Kansas State as WVU begins Big 12 play.

And it is those complete games that make you think of Nolan Ryan, as his manager, Randy Mazey noted.

“People these days don’t do what he’s doing,” Mazey said. “I watched a documentary on Nolan Ryan the other day and that was Nolan’s mentality … ‘Don’t you take me out of this game. I came to pitch today.’ He always comes to me at the end of the 8th and says ‘You[‘re not taking me out of this game today.’ And I tell him, ‘I wouldn’t even consider it.’”

The complete games are part of Traxel’s makeup and symbolize what he’s gone through to have such success.

“It’s something I take pride in, trying to get better as we go. The more adversity, the more runners on base, the tough situations is where I thrive,” he said. “You have to like those situations if you want to be a starting pitcher who wants to pitch late in games. I’ve kind of gotten used to it so I tend to do better in those situations now.”

And so, when he gets through eight innings, he knows that Mazey might just yank him … and he doesn’t want any part of that.

“He’s a tough guy to convince,” Traxel said. “We know that. Years past I tried to convince my other coaches, but he’s a little bit of a stickler, so I try to beat him to what he’s going to say. I just let him know ‘Nobody’s finishing this game but me.’ I want him to know my confidence is there.”

Traxel’s back story is an interesting one and Mazey enjoys relating how he got him and how Traxel became the sidearm pitcher he often is.

He didn’t have any offers in high school as they were about to play the best team in the state. The week before, however, this team had trouble against a sidearm pitcher so his high school coach came up with a strange request.

“As a kid, I always messed around with it playing Wiffleball. Coach asked me if I would have any problem trying it,” he explained. “So, I tried it and I pitched well and kind of stuck with it and realized that’s where I would be best to get to college.”

He wound up at Cal State-Northridge, the only school that offered him, and the pitching coach was Mazey’s former pitching coach at WVU, Dave Serrano, who after having him for a year got hold of his old boss.

“I got a guy here for you,” Mazey says Serrano told him. “You’re not going to be struck with how hard he throws or his pitches, but believe me, he’s a winner.”

So Traxel became a Mountaineer and now sometimes throws sidearm, sometimes with his natural motion, even tries a hesitation pitch on occasion.

The thing is, he’s tireless. His last complete game, with the wind gusting out against Xavier in which he gave up only two runs, he threw 110 pitches.

“That’s like a day off for him,” Mazey said. “Somebody asked me about his pitch count and I said I could care less about his pitch count. He gets better as he goes. He’s better at pitch 100 than he is at pitch 1. When he pitches a game, he wants to pitch the (whole) game, which is pretty cool.”

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