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Commentary Bob Lutz: Flynn figures out his way to majors

  • Published Tuesday, Sep. 3, 2013, at 4:56 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Sep. 3, 2013, at 5:24 p.m.

Remember former Wichita State pitcher Brian Flynn?

He was the guy who looked like he should be able to throw a baseball through an aircraft carrier but never quite lived up to his promise. At 6-foot-7 and approaching 240 pounds, Flynn might be the most imposing Shocker pitcher ever.

But also one of the most disappointing.

He never lived up to his potential and often had only himself to blame. He was suspended during his sophomore season, in 2010, because he wasn’t taking care of his academic responsibilities. And when Flynn did pitch — in 2009 and 2011 — he was 8-9 with an ERA close to 5.00.

Even so, the Detroit Tigers saw what everybody saw when their scouts looked at Flynn. A big, loose, hard-throwing left-hander who should be able to get it figured out. That’s why Detroit drafted Flynn in the seventh round in 2011.

And, yes, this is a story with a happy ending that really is just a new beginning.

Flynn, with a better head on his shoulders and a more developed left arm attached to his torso, makes his big-league debut today for the Miami Marlins at Wrigley Field against the Cubs.

Flynn finally figured it out.

“This is such a great opportunity and I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,’’ Flynn said during a phone interview Monday, the day he was called up by the Marlins and told he would be starting at Wrigley. “I guess it kind of hit me when I jumped on the plane and was sitting in first class as to opposed to Triple-A flights on Southwest, where we’re practically sitting on top of one another.’’

Flynn, from Owasso, Okla., has a 25-19 record in pro ball with a 3.29 ERA in 67 starts. Something clicked and that doesn’t surprise Wichita State pitching coach Brent Kemnitz, who was constantly battling with Flynn to make him understand responsibility.

“He came in here and he was high maintenance,’’ Kemnitz said. “You had to stay on him about going to class and things like that.’’

It got so bad that the Shockers had to suspend Flynn for his sophomore season. The left-hander admits he was embarrassed and thought about packing his bags and heading for a junior college.

He decided, though, to face his issues.

“My college career at Wichita State was really disappointing,’’ Flynn said. “My sophomore year aside when I was academically ineligible, I wasn’t happy with my performance during my freshman and junior years. I knew I had more in me.’’

Flynn showed flashes. When he was on, hitters couldn’t touch him. But he was erratic with his mechanics and struggled to find a consistent delivery. His control wavered.

Then, suddenly, it stopped wavering. Urged by his pro coaches to work on finding a repeatable delivery and release point, Flynn finally found a way to get control of all the moving parts of his big body.

As a pro, Flynn has walked only 2.6 batters per nine innings, compared to 7.6 strikeouts. He was an unimpressive 6-11 for Triple-A New Orleans this season, but those are the only numbers that don’t look good. He had a 2.80 ERA and struck out 122 in 135 innings.

At least for now, he moves into a young and exciting Marlins rotation that includes Rookie of the Year candidate Jose Fernandez, Nate Eovaldi, Jacob Turner and Henderson Alvarez, all 24 and below.

Flynn, 23, expected to have trouble sleeping in the hours leading up his debut.

“I’m going to try and keep my preparation the same for this start as I do for all of my others,’’ he said. “I’ll arrive at the park around 9:30, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty of butterflies to go around. Hopefully by getting there nice and early, I’ll be able to get them out of the way as soon as possible.’’

Neither the Marlins nor Cubs are in contention, so Flynn expects to be facing a lot of guys he pitched against this season with the Iowa Cubs, Chicago’s Triple-A team in the Pacific Coast League. That might help ease Flynn’s nerves, he said. So will the Marlins’ other starters, most of whom are seen as a part of what the team hopes is a bright future.

“I was around a lot of these pitchers in big-league camp during the spring,’’ Flynn said. “And there are some really good arms here.’’

He was traded by the Tigers in the Anibal Sanchez-Omar Infante deal last season along with Turner, who has been in the Marlins’ rotation for a while.

“Jacob has the mentality of a 30-year old,’’ Flynn said. “It’s easy to forget he’s just 22 doing the things he’s doing. And Fernandez, you could tell he was something special in spring training. He’s not too cocky and he’s a hard worker. And his stuff is electric.’’

Flynn’s reviews will start to pour in today, following his start against the Cubs. That he’s gotten to the big leagues just more than two years after leaving Wichita State shows that everybody who believed in him was right.

“You see this big 6-7 kid who throws 90-plus and you’re seeing big-time ability,’’ Kemnitz said. “But yeah, he drove me crazy with his immaturity. But he’s also one of those guys that you take big-time pride in knowing how he got things figured out and now he’s getting his reward by pitching in the big leagues.’’

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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