EDINBURG — Just a couple of hours before Saturday’s game against Chicago State, UTPA pitcher Blake English didn’t think he was going to start.
He had woken up with a pain in his side, and he and coach Manny Mantrana thought it might be best to rest him. But as the game got nearer, English had a change of heart.
“I was like, ‘I want to win,’” English said. “‘Coach, I’m OK, I can throw.’ And he let me go. I guess I just gave it my all to try to get the win.”
English wound up pitching a near-perfect game, allowing just one infield hit and one walk in a complete-game shutout. The outing was the third consecutive dominant start for English, a streak he’ll look to continue on Saturday against North Dakota. The three-game WAC series begins at 7 tonight at Edinburg Baseball Stadium.
In his past three outings, English has allowed only one earned run in 24 innings. He’s given up just 12 hits and two walks compared to 13 strikeouts.
“I’m starting to figure it out now,” English said. “I’ve learned that you can’t blow it by people at this level.”
English says his changeup is his best pitch, but he leaned almost exclusively on his fastball against Chicago State. Of his 99 pitches, 98 were fastballs. Although he sits in the high 80s and can touch as high as 91 miles per hour, English said he’s learned to rely on locating his pitches down in the zone, even if it means sacrificing a little speed.
At the start of this season, English’s first with the Broncs, he was tempted to try to overpower batters after not getting the chance to do so the past two years.
While pitching for Lon Morris junior college as a freshman, English went through a stretch of 72 innings in 10 weeks that left his elbow in shambles. Those troubles carried over into his sophomore year, at Cisco Junior College, where English said his velocity was down by 7 or 8 miles per hour. After sitting for the first 25 games and then being used out of the bullpen, English came to UTPA and felt he finally had his fastball back.
“My (velocity) was back up and I was like, ‘Oh, I can blow it by people,’” English said.
That mindset led to English missing his spots. He also had issues with conditioning early in the year, losing fastball velocity as games went on.
In his first three WAC starts, English pitched just 15 1/3 innings, giving up 11 runs on 22 hits and nine walks.
“He’s beginning to understand the importance of conditioning and getting ready for the next start,” Mantrana said. “Now he’s keeping up his velocity. It’s staying where it needs to stay later in games. And that’s really been a big, big plus for him.”
English has also made a few tweaks to his mechanics. He’s making sure he keeps his elbow up and even with his shoulder, and on his follow through he’s “shutting the door” — throwing his elbow toward his back hip. He’s also been focusing on his back leg and leaning his heel toward the plate.
“Obviously, it’s successful,” English said. “It’s been working really well, actually.”
English even made substantial changes to his approach off the diamond. On nights before games he used to stay up as late as 4 a.m., even if he had to be at the clubhouse by 11. Now, he’s in bed by midnight, getting nine or 10 hours of sleep.
He’s used the extra time to start focusing on the game as early as six hours before first pitch. Once he gets in the clubhouse, he’s putting more time toward studying the opponent’s hitters.
“It’s just like a routine now,” English said. “And it’s been working, so I’m just going to go ahead and stick with it.”