Going from the high-pressure job of closer to the highly regimented role of starter isn’t wearing on Wichita State junior Cale Elam.
“Cale, he’s just a good pitcher,” teammate T.J. McGreevy said. “He’s still really laid back and nothing’s really changed with him.”
Not even his intro song, which didn’t fit a closer and won’t change this season when Elam comes out to start Friday’s opener against Pittsburgh at Eck Stadium. He plays “A Country Boy Can Survive” by Hank Williams Jr., a favorite of his grandfather.
“It’s older country, and that’s still what I listen to today,” he said. “That kind of resembles me and where I came from and my culture. That makes it easy, going out there knowing you’ve just go to throw up some zeroes and have a good time doing it.”
Regimented doesn’t fit Elam, who won’t be one of those starters who prepares on his pitching day by shutting out the world.
“I’ve never been that kind of guy, I call them ‘Uptight and so locked in you can’t talk to me and I’m going through all this,’ ” he said.
Elam, who started in high school, always resembled a starter at WSU, even when closing. He throws a four-pitch mix and produces a lot of groundballs, useful for facing batters several times. He doesn’t blow batters away with one dominant pitch, often the trademark of a closer.
“It’s nothing but a mind-set change,” he said. “The game doesn’t change. You’re still trying to get three outs.”
The Shockers need Elam to retain that part of his culture. In two seasons, he is 10-5 with a 1.74 ERA in 54 appearances, all in relief. With plenty of experience in the bullpen and a hole at the top of the rotation, pitching coach Brent Kemnitz decided switching Elam made sense.
Elam pitched three innings three times as a sophomore, showing he wasn’t just a one-inning specialist. This spring, he is steadily increasing his workload. In practices, he reaches 65-70 pitches and around five innings, a good pace for early in the season.
He plans to shag a few balls in the outfield to loosen up before starts, just as he did when relieving. However, when he relieved he could watch hitters and compile a scouting report for the later innings. He won’t have that luxury as a starter, so preparing before the game and planning from inning to inning becomes important.
“There’s no reason he can’t be everything we all want him to be,” Kemnitz said. “He’s comfortable with it. We’re the ones who turned him into a reliever.”
Coach Gene Stephenson expects shortstop Cody Bobbit and right fielder Garrett Bayliff to start the opener. Bobbit, a sophomore transfer, is recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Bayliff, a junior, is recovering from three ankle surgeries, the result of a 2011 injury that cost most of the past two seasons.
“They’re practicing every day and they’re doing everything everyone else is doing,” Stephenson said. “(Bayliff), when he wants to run, and he shows you he can run, he runs well. I don’t think he’s lost anything. And he’s gaining confidence.”
Stephenson doesn’t expect either to play all three games of the series. He wants both to ease back into full-time roles to keep them healthy.
“We’re being very careful that we don’t overdo it,” he said. “We’ve got enough depth, we’ve got enough players, that we’re not going to have a significant drop-off when we make substitutions.”
Gray will be inducted on May 25 at Cessna Stadium during the state track and field meet.
Gray, who competed from 1996-2000, won the long jump and 100-meter hurdles four times and the 300 hurdles three times. She also won triple jump as a senior, part of a four-title finale in high school.
At WSU, won three Missouri Valley Conference titles, long jump, 60 hurdles and 100 hurdles.