His freshman season at Mississippi State wasn't quite what Houston wanted for himself. He showed excellent velocity pitching out of the windup (high 80s, low 90s) but lost 4 to 5 miles per hour when throwing out of the stretch. When he and MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson sat down for their post-season meeting they discussed what Houston needed to work on during his summer ball play.
"(Coach Thompson and I) had talked about it and he told me that if I wanted to be great I had to be able to throw out of the stretch because games are won out of the stretch," said Houston. "That really stuck with me because I knew I needed to work on my stretch. When I left for summer ball that was the one thing that I wanted to work on. I wanted to master throwing out of the stretch.
"So, when I first got there the first game (that I was brought in) I threw out of the stretch. It started out slow but after about the first week I really progressed with it. My velocity went up higher than I have ever thrown and it was all out of the stretch. Last year I was anywhere from 89 to 90 to 92 but I wasn't consistently sitting where I am right now. (This summer) my velocity was consistently 90 to 93 and I topped out at 95, and that was all out of the stretch. I didn't pitch out of the windup at all."
He also saw more break in his breaking pitch, which surprised him because he used the low seam ball during summer play and had heard so many stories that the low seam ball decreased the break on breaking pitches.
"My breaking ball was also a lot sharper. Even with the low seam ball I had more bite on my breaking ball," said Houston. "I was worried that I wouldn't, but that wasn't the case at all. It was really sharp and came out of my hand really well."
In fact, his slider came out of his hand so well, it actually looked like he was throwing his fastball. Even his summer league catcher had trouble telling the difference between the two when Houston threw them.
"My catcher up there said it was hard to distinguish between my fastball and slider when they came out of my hand," said Houston. "I wanted to work on that also. I wanted my pitches to look the same coming out of my hand and do something different at the end. And that was exactly what I was able to do."
Because his fastball and slider were almost indistinguishable, he was able to keep hitters off-balance, which led to more than a strikeout per inning.
"I was getting a lot of strikeouts," said Houston, who recorded 30 Ks in 23 innings. "I was able to throw my fastball really well and keep it low. And I was able to keep hitters off-balance with my slider because it came out of my hand the same way as my fastball."
After having a great summer pitching in relief, Houston feels that may be his best fit on this year's Bulldog pitching staff.
"Coach Thompson gave me the option to come to them and tell them what I thought I would be best at," said Houston. "And after this summer, I really feel like a (I am a) closer. And that is what I told them; I want to step into that role."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.