It's not that pitchers can't think. Sometimes it's better when they don't need to let thoughts get in the way of actions.
That is where Wichita State catcher Chris O'Brien comes in. He started two of three games in the weekend series at Evansville and six of the past nine in part because of his touch working with pitchers.
"He's doing a good job getting the most out of pitchers, and that's the most important thing," WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. "There were some guys out there (Sunday at Evansville) it looked like 'Wow, we may have to get them right now.' He got them back in the zone."
O'Brien, a sophomore, did his most important work with reliever Cobey Guy, who took over in the first inning for injured starter Charlie Lowell. Guy inherited a 6-0 lead and gave the Aces no hope at a rally with six strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings.
"I was on the same page with Chris," Guy said. "It was one of those days where I think it and he puts it down. He knows what my best stuff is and when to go to it."
O'Brien, the son of former big-league catcher Charlie O'Brien, makes it a point to study his pitchers. When he wasn't playing early in the season, he caught bullpen sessions or watched.
"That's where you make your relationships with pitchers," he said.
Part of that relationship is getting into a flow so that the pitcher can throw with a clear mind. Once O'Brien knows what pitchers like to throw in situations, he can do some of the thinking for them.
"A lot of it is just talking to them," O'Brien said. "A lot of it is giving them a game plan. When you go out there and give them a plan and say 'We're going to do this on this guy — this pitch, this pitch, this pitch.' They're comfortable. They don't really think about where they're throwing it."
That fits with pitching coach Brent Kemnitz's theory that pitchers are at their best when they pitch without thinking about pitching. With Guy, O'Brien went to his changeup often to keep hitters off balance.
"If I'm on the same page with him and he puts something down, I'm going to be confident to go with that," Guy said. "I'm not trying to make up mind."
O'Brien is also giving the Shockers offense. He went 4 for 9 in two games against Evansville with six RBIs. His grand slam on Sunday staked WSU to a 6-0 lead. He has hits in six of his past seven games to raise his average to .302.
"I focused a lot on getting better pitches to hit," he said. "I was pressing a little bit, because I wasn't playing at the beginning, instead of just relaxing and doing what I know I can do. Now I'm in the flow of things and I'm seeing good pitches and putting good swings on them."
With O'Brien and senior Cody Lassley, Stephenson enjoys options at catcher. On Sunday, Lassley went 2 for 4 with two RBIs as the designated hitter. He leads WSU with a .375 batting average and six home runs.
"We're lucky that we have two guys that are really good," Stephenson said. "Chris is throwing the ball better, more accurately, and playing with a little more confidence defensively."
Lowell on hold — WSU pitcher Charlie Lowell did not see a doctor on Monday. He is scheduled to be examined today, according to pitching coach Brent Kemnitz, after leaving Sunday's game complaining of elbow and forearm tightness.