April 15, 2014
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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- He didn't pick up a baseball all last summer, let alone throw one. His glove?
"It sat in my locker," Brandon Waddell said Monday at Davenport Field.
A 6-3 left-handed pitcher from Texas, Waddell was not injured. But after his coaches at UVa watched him wear down near the end of a grueling freshman season, they decided Waddell needed to get stronger more than he needed to throw more pitches.
"We've had other pitchers that have done the same thing," head coach Brian O'Connor said, including Danny Hultzen. "When somebody comes in as a freshman and they throw as many innings as Brandon did last year, they're not used to that. If Brandon Waddell was going to be improved from his freshman year to his sophomore year, a big part of that was going to have to come from physical strength.
"It looks like it worked."
The Sunday starter for the nation's top-ranked team, Waddell is 5-1 with a 2.78 earned-run average. In 55 innings this season, he's walked only eight batters.
In his most recent start, in the deciding game of UVa's series with ACC rival Clemson at Davenport Field, Waddell pitched 6.1 shutout innings to earn the victory, allowing six hits, striking out four and walking none.
He hasn't allowed a run in his past 14.1 innings and hasn't walked a batter in his past 24 innings. He hasn't issued an unintentional walk in his past 28.1 innings.
"My velocity did go up a little bit," Waddell said, "but I think more than that my body feels a lot better. I feel a lot better right now than I did at this point last year. I feel a lot stronger."
When Waddell enrolled at UVa in the summer of 2012, he weighed 158 pounds. He's now a sturdy 180. Instead of pitching last summer, he took a class and trained twice each day with Ed Nordenschild, Virginia's director of strength and conditioning, who works with the baseball team.
"You can see [the difference], just when he's walking around," O'Connor said of Waddell. "Physically he looks stronger. You can see it from his fastball velocity, and most importantly I hope it means 1, he can pitch deeper into games and 2, he'll last deeper in the season."
Coming out of Clear Lake High School in Houston, Waddell was not a heralded recruit, but that didn't stop him from earning a major role in his first college season. As Virginia's Friday starter, Waddell posted a 6-3 record last year, with a 3.96 earned-run average, on a team that won 50 games and advanced to an NCAA tournament super regional.
Late in the season, though, his effectiveness dipped. "You could feel it. Your body wasn't there," Waddell said. "Taking a jump from high school to college, I didn't throw anywhere near the amount in high school that I did last year."
At the end of his first year, Waddell said, he and O'Connor and pitching coach Karl Kuhn mapped out an offseason program for him.
"We agreed that coming out of high school, I wasn't prepared for [the demands of college baseball] as well as I could have been," Waddell said. "And we knew that we needed to prepare for a workload like that and get my body ready for that, and staying healthy is really the most important thing. So to keep that focus in mind, it would be to work on strength."
Waddell stayed off the mound for most of the fall, too, but he was back in the Wahoos' weekend rotation when his sophomore season began.
He started UVa's opener, a 8-3 loss to Kentucky on Feb. 14 at the Hughes Bros. Challenge in Wilmington, N.C. That was on a Friday. A week later, in the opener of a three-game series against East Carolina at Davenport Field, sophomore left-hander Nathan Kirby started for the `Hoos.
Waddell started two days later and collected the victory as UVa completed its sweep of ECU. Kirby and Waddell have remained in those slots, with another sophomore -- right-hander Josh Sborz -- starting Saturday games.
"We didn't certainly line it up that way," O'Connor said. "Really what happened was after that first weekend, because Brandon hadn't pitched in such a long period of time, he needed a couple of extra days [to recover]. He just didn't feel right. Fortunately Kirby stepped up and was throwing consistently, and it felt like it was the best thing to do, to keep it the way it was."
Waddell said his mentality hasn't changed much since his move to Sunday in the pitching rotation.
"There's not that much of a difference," Waddell said. "On a Friday you're going in to set a tone, you're going in to start off the weekend on the right foot, and on Sunday you're kind of looking to take the series or sweep the series. But with both of them you're still going out and trying to set a tone, trying to be a leader for your team that day."
Born and raised in Houston, Waddell is the son of University of Houston alumni. But he had little interest in spending his college years in the Lone Star State, and his finalists were UVa and Stanford.
"I had lived there my whole life, so I kind of wanted to experience something new," said Waddell, an economics major.
Texas typically isn't fertile recruiting ground for the Cavaliers, but Kuhn "had seen Brandon pitch out in the travel-ball circuit and really liked him," O'Connor said. "We had communicated with his coach down there and found out that he was an excellent student and he was aspiring to go to a great academic school with really good baseball.
"There just seemed to be a connection. Karl did a nice job of developing a relationship with him, and Brandon came out here and he loved it. We were in need of another pitcher in that class, and it worked out."
Weather permitting, UVa (30-6) will host Radford at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Then comes a three-game series against ACC rival North Carolina at Davenport Field.
Virginia, tied for first in the Coastal Division with a 14-4 record in ACC play, has won every series this season. Even so, Waddell said, the Cavaliers aren't satisfied with their play.
"I feel like we're just getting started," he said. "I think we haven't played our best baseball to date, but it'll come, and I think it'll come at the right time."