It hasn't been long since Jamie Rodrigue stepped on campus and wowed the partisan crowds as a freshman. Not long ago did he first appear as a Husker on the mound, tossing almost 90 innings of work over 17 appearances and 15 starts, throwing four complete games, winning 9 and posting an impressive 2.04 ERA.
Not long ago at all, but it was probably a lifetime to Jamie Rodrigue as his Sophomore season saw him throw nearly the same amount of innings in a similar amount of appearances and starts, but the stats were not up to his inaugural standard. During that time, Jamie's ERA ballooned to an un-Rodrigue like 6.03 as he (at times) struggled with control problems. When Jamie was in control, he sparkled like the season before, but as a whole, it was a down time for this Husker pitcher.
This year, nobody is thinking about what was. Nobody is thinking about what could of been. People are only thinking and even marveling at the fact that when you talk about the pitching that has carried NU (at times) up to this point, you aren't just talking about one Shane Komine.
From last year to this, it's all been quite a change (and a pleasant one) for Rodrigue. "It (his success this season) was kind of hard to expect from last year", Rodrigue stated, but as with any player at this level, a season like he had last year isn't a reason to quit, it's a reason to get better. "It's tough to pin-point one thing, but a big part of it is not wanting to disappoint myself or the team", Jamie said. "Against Texas Tech, it wasn't a great outing and I did a lot of things wrong, but I did what I could to get through it."
With Jamie's resurgence, NU's staff seems to be as solid as it has ever been. Shane has been.......well, Shane, Jamie has been almost his statistical equal and with the rise of players like Aaron Marsden, Brian Duensing, Phil Shirek and a host of others, NU's staff looks prepared to lead the Huskers for another shot at the CWS.
Jamie commented about the fact that NU's pitching staff isn't just large in number, but in ability as well. "It takes a lot of pressure off the first two guys knowing that even like during the weekday games, we can count on guys to get it done, Jamie stated, "plus, guys that come out of the pen during the weekend games when Shane and I are pitching, it's real comfortable knowing that they could do the same job that Shane and I could when we started the game."
Lofty praise for a staff that isn't loaded with experience, but based on performances like Marsden's complete game one-hitter and solid performances from Duensing, Shirek and company, NU isn't looking just deep, they are looking deadly.
For Jamie though, this has been a season to remember. Not many would of thought (based on last year) that people could so closely compare his statistics with that of pre-season All-American, Shane Komine, but you can at that. While Shane has managed to dominate his opponents in typical fashion, sporting a 1.17 ERA while fanning a staggering 58 batters, Jamie has held pace for the most part, maintaining a 1.44 ERA, fanning 22, while edging Komine in shutouts, complete games and ties Komine with base on balls allowed at 10 each.
Statistics however aren't the final factor for Jamie when he thinks about his role as the two-guy in NU's pitching punch. "Shane and I don't look at it like we are better than each other in some stat.", Jamie stated. "We just both go out there and do what we are capable of and the results will show the work we put in". With the apparent lack of inner-competitiveness however, Jamie states that the existence of NU's "ace" has allowed him not just the ability to get better, but someone he can pick up a few things here and there. "Watching Shane for two years now, watching that competitiveness and attitude he has, that's something that I picked up a lot watching him pitch and though we are totally different pitchers, we both have the same job to do when we get on the mound and that is to win ball games."
What do you think of Haymarket park?
"It's excellent. There were a lot of memories with the Buck, but it's like a new beginning. The field is incredible and to be able to get ready in a couple of days after like eight inches of snow, it's like no other in the nation."
As Jamie has learned something from Shane, so to have other teams learned from NU's strikeout wizard, the most important thing, they can't beat him. If you don't believe that philosophy, just look at what Baylor did going into the series against Nebraska, making the decision to take their number one guy, Steven White and start him on Saturday against Jamie, instead of going head to head against Komine. That certainly has to make Shane Komine feel good seeing that kind of respect, but what does it do for one Jamie Rodrigue who now gets the team's perceived best punch in light of this new strategy. "For me, it's a self-motivation, Jamie stated. "If guys think they can't beat Shane and they can beat me, that's just something that kind of toots my whistle a little bit and gets me going."
As for that afore-mentioned Baylor game, NU was a hit here or there away from kicking that strategy right back in their face as Jamie met the challenge and then some, allowing only one earned run through 6 and a 1/3 innings, striking out one and walking none. It's something that Jamie is now expecting and anticipating. "Texas Tech did the same thing this last weekend when they threw their third guy against Shane and their ace against us on Saturday," Jamie said, "but it kind of backfired. It's fine though, because that means we can get that win on Friday and with the way I have been throwing, we can shock them on Saturdays to."
For this season at least, it's been the pitching staff that has indeed received the bulk of the attention. As fellow Husker players that aren't pitchers are willing to admit, the hitting hasn't been as consistent as they are used to, especially this far into the season. Near-misses at Baylor, Minnesota and most recently, Texas Tech have all had Husker fans scratching their heads a bit, especially after the series sweep and dominant beat-down of the Aggies.
Fan eagerly await, wondering if it will come together like that weekend against Texas A&M, where they will see NU go on another "run", but Jamie isn't waiting, because he knows it's going to be there. "One of our main focuses (as pitchers) is keeping it close during the game and we know that once our hitters get into that rhythm, they are just going to take control, Rodrigue said, "and in the games they don't, it's our job not to let the other teams score runs, but we as a pitching staff have total confidence in our hitters as they do with us." "We have the capability of winning 10 or 12 games in a row, it's just a matter of going out and doing it and not having any major let downs."
NU's pitching staff is rolling. The success they have had have been one of the main reasons for NU's success. Statistically, they have a 2.94 ERA, and that's with two pitchers having ERAs in double-digits. Add to that, the fact that as a pitcher, if you can have at least a 2-1 ration on walks to strikes, you are doing well, take into mind that as a team, Nebraska has ratio even better than that.
With Jamie's almost dramatic turnaround making the NU pitching staff that much more potent, it begs the question, why. What's the difference between now and last season that has him on such a roll and opponents on their heels trying to figure him out? "The thing about last year, is that I was a fastball-change up kind of guy and this year, I throw a lot more cut fastballs and curve balls than I did last year, so it had to keep them honest with the righties with the cutter coming in on them instead of the change-up diving away, so instead of two pitches, it's like three or four."
|As you look at traditional baseball powers like LSU and Stanford, what are your goals in helping the team to get to that level?
"When you look at our football team, you kind of idolize them in that the fans expect so much out of them, which is a good thing. That's something we want. We want the fans to expect us to go to the College World Series every year, because that's just extra motivation for us to go out there and get it done."
A new found arsenal of pitches means a new found success and a regenerated confidence that has Jamie in the winners' column and opponents in a state of confusion. I posed a question to Jamie about this success, the confidence it lends to him and how that translates against each batter out on the mound. "Being able to throw more than two pitches for a strike is a key thing", Jamie Said, "also, in the Big Twelve conference with such great hitting teams, being able to throw off-speed pitchers or change-ups in hitter-counts like 2-0 or 3-1, is a great way to keep them off-balance."
There's a lot of season remaining, but Jamie has already made a career's worth of statements from his freshman campaign where he was touted and praised to the Sophomore "jinx" that was in full-effect as he struggled most of the season. That season (last year) is turning out not as a blessing, but as a major motivation for Rodrigue as he takes the mound each game. "This year, when you look at what happened last year and what happened my freshman year, my motivation are those people that think my freshman year was a fluke", Rodrigue stated. "but, the biggest thing is that you have 30 guys depending on you when you are on the mound and it's hard to take when you lose them (the games), because you have those 30 guys that you just disappointed."
This year, there have been no disappointments in what Jamie's been able to do. This year, those 30 guys have to be smiling when he takes the mound and this year, Jamie's performances become that much more important in light of teams now playing their aces against him rather than Shane. This year, so different from last, the only disappiontment you are likely to see as he takes the mound each game, is on the face of the other team.
As always, check out Scott Kuhn's Deep Thoughts on the week that was in Nebraska baseball and thanks to Huskers.comfor stats, Lori Foote for the great pictures from Haymarket Park and of course, to Jamie and the rest of the Husker team for taking the time to talk to us.