If moving Cale Elam from closer to Wichita State’s starting rotation were a scientific experiment, Saturday’s results would have probably matched the Shocker coaches’ hypothesis.
Elam was dominant in the ninth inning for WSU during his first two seasons, while imploring pitching coach Brent Kemnitz and coach Gene Stephenson to see if he could be just as effective as a starter.
In the fourth start of his college career, Elam overpowered Texas Pan-American in the first game of a doubleheader at Eck Stadium. The junior right-hander allowed two hits over six innings, striking out eight in WSU’s 8-1 win.
In the nightcap, WSU sent 15 to the plate in the seventh, scoring 10 runs in a 15-8 victory. Casey Gillaspie’s grand slam highlighted the inning. The first 12 batters reached base.
WSU and Texas-Pan American opted to play a doubleheader Saturday and eliminate their game scheduled for Sunday.
Elam had his best outing of the season in the opener.
"I felt like today was what I imagined this whole time," Elam said. "I’ve gotten better each outing, and today the only thing I could say I changed was eliminating mistakes. Other than giving the leadoff guy a walk to start the game, I didn’t really give them anything free and that’s what hurt me in other games past."
Elam mentioned the walk because the game’s first batter represented a turning point, not only in Saturday’s game but in Elam’s season. He allowed a hit in the first, but after that the only blemishes against him were a second-inning walk and an infield single in the third.
At one point, Elam got to two strikes against eight consecutive batters; not coincidentally, all of them were retired. He struck out five of six hitters in one stretch and got stronger as his outing progressed because he dialed up his aggressiveness.
Many aspects of starting are vastly different from coming in for a high-pressure situation in the eighth or ninth inning, but Elam discovered that not everything has to be different. In past starts he has paced himself for durability, but Saturday he constantly attacked.
"In games past, and Brent and I talked about this, too — maybe I wasn’t going at them as hard as what I would have if I was closing," Elam said. "I felt like today, I just went out there and said ’Here it is’ and laid it out there and went for as long as he would let me go. That’s one of the things, if there were any adjustments at all, that was it."
Elam retired the final 10 batters he faced before giving way to Aaron LaBrie for the final two innings. Elam won his first game and dropped his ERA about three-quarters of a run to 3.26. Getting ahead in the counts so consistently enabled Elam to use all of his pitches for outs and kept the Broncs hitters from solving him.
UTPA starter Dusten Knight’s outing was the opposite of Elam’s, as Knight was at his best early before losing it in the third. WSU’s patience at the plate, not its hitters’ most noticeable trait, led to a four-run third, when the Shockers drew three walks.
The Shockers’ selectivity had more to do with those walks than Knight’s wildness. Casey Gillaspie earned his walk on four pitches, but Erik Harbutz’s was on a full-count and Tyler Baker drew ball four on the eighth pitch of his plate appearance with the bases loaded.
"We competed well and several guys in the lineup had a good day," Stephenson said.
Garrett Bayliff had a two-run single in the third and the Shockers tacked on insurance Elam ensured they didn’t need. Gillaspie had an RBI double in the fifth, Baker a sacrifice fly in the seventh and Mikel Mucha’s RBI double was the big hit in a two-run eighth.
DP — Pan American. LOB — Pan American 4, WSU 6. 2B — Goulding (2), Gillaspie (3), Doggett (1, Mucha (2).. SF — Baker. SB — Dearman (1).
WP — Elam, Barrera. Balk — Barrera. Umpires — Phil Plantz, home; Bob Hololka, first; Ben Aschwege, third. T — 2:26.
E — Goulding 2, Parker 2, Harbutz, Dearman. DP — Pan American, WSU. LOB — Pan American 10, WSU 10. 2B — Morales (3), Klemcke (2), Dearman (1), Gillaspie 2 (5), Coy (2), Bayliff (2). HR — Gillaspie (5) (grand slam) S — Rios. SF — Howe, Doggett. SB — Howe (4), Harbutz (2), Baylitt. CS — Mucha, Baylifft.
HBP — Parker (by Street). Umpires — Bob Homolka, home; Ben Achwege, first; Phil Plantz, third. T — 3:41. A — 2,291.