Deep in Arms

Ryan Thomas

Great pitchers aren’t one-dimensional. If Josh Beckett didn’t have the physical gift that allowed him to throw 95 mph, he’d just be a run-of-the-mill ten-win pitcher that bounced around from team to team. Conversely, if Beckett’s work-ethic was lack luster and he didn’t constantly tinker with his mechanics, adjust his curveball grip and spend hours upon hours improving himself as a pitcher, his mid-90’s fastball would be rendered almost useless, and he would be just another arm at the back end of a bullpen.

What makes Beckett a great pitcher is that he combines his other-worldly physical gifts with his Texas-style work ethic. Put it together, and you get a perennial Cy Young Award candidate.

Nick Conway may not have the mid-90’s fastball that Josh Beckett has, but his work ethic matches up. And after a sub-par season in 2007 – compared to 2006 – Conway is ready to take the Little East Conference by storm once again. Only this time, he’ll have a better supporting cast to accompany him.

After posting average numbers last season, Beacons head coach Brendan Eygabroat thinks Conway has put the hard work in during the off-season and that his senior year will be his best with UMass Boston. “Nick has spent a lot of time working on his change up,” Eygabroat says. “He’s [also] trimmed down a little bit; I think he was almost a little too big last year. Now he’s very strong, but he’s not as bulky, and I think that’s really gonna help him. He’s more flexible on top.

“[It’s going to] help him get the life back in his fastball and his change up, when it’s on, it’s very, very good, and I think we have to make sure he uses his changeup enough and works ahead of hitters and realizes he doesn’t have to strike everybody out.”

Eygabroat thinks that his ace has “the best curveball in the league” and that his fastball is “one of the best.” Add in an improved change up, and Eygabroat believes that Conway will have a very big year.

Competition for the number two starter behind Conway has been rabid so far, and Eygabroat doesn’t see anybody separating themselves just yet. There are three main competitors for the spot: Mike Andriano, Mike Dorval and closer-turned-starter Tom Michael.

Andriano, a sophomore, had a very successful rookie campaign in 2007, and Eygabroat loved his consistency. “Every time you put him out there, you know what you’re gonna get,” he says. “He’s [the] David Wells of the team. Just a soft-tossin’ lefty, but every time he goes out there, he gives you a great performance, and he’s a bulldog.”

Dorval, a senior who splits time between third base and pitcher, was very solid and dependable last season and Eygabroat looks for him to throw some important innings this spring. “We’re expecting [Mike] to compete for some conference innings, and also be a big non-conference starter.”

The dark horse of the potential number two starters seems to be Tom Michael. Michael worked out of the bullpen last season, closing out some games, but Eygabroat thinks he has the arm and make-up to be a quality starter in the Little East. “I think last year, we might have under-utilized Tom Michael, trying to keep him just as the closer,” Eygabroat explained. “He’s someone that we thought we could use more as a starter and make sure he gets those six, seven innings, rather than one [or] two.”

Eygabroat actually compares Michael to Conway. He says that both have a very good mid-80’s fastball and a “very, very devastating curveball.” He says that Michael has also spent a lot of time working on a third pitch -his changeup – due to the transition from closer to starter.

With Michael’s transition to the starter’s role and two freshmen aiming for the closer’s role, Eygabroat is going with an unproven philosophy. “Right now, we might go with the old Red Sox closer-by-committee until someone really steps up.” The Beacons coach explained that “in college baseball, a lot of the time, its usually best arm available [at the end of the game].”

Even though the closer role doesn’t seem a pertinent one, Eygabroat has a few aces up his sleeve. “We’ve got a couple freshmen who look pretty strong out of the back end of the bullpen with Dan Noonan and Mike Cain, who are both very strong-armed freshmen, two guys who we have very high expectations for over their careers here at UMass Boston.”

Eygabroat explained that what he and his coaches have tried to do the past few years is beef up the pitching staff. Currently, his plan has come to fruition. Said the head coach: “This is by far the deepest pitching staff we’ve ever had.”