"You could say I've had some experience on the mound," said Baker, the third-year junior who has 28 appearances, 22 of them starts, in his UM career. "I've thrown on some weekends. Me, along with three or four other guys, have a shot at being in that rotation."
Couple of key notes. The three who start this weekend at the South Alabama tournament won't necessarily be the same exact three to start later in the season or even the second weekend of the campaign. History tells us that. Baseball is like that. Things, in this case starters, change.
Baker has had his moments of greatness and his moments that weren't so great. At times he's been unhittable, and other times he's struggled. A few times that's all come in the same outing.
Consistency is one of his goals for the season. He's worked on other aspects of his game as well.
"The main thing I've worked on since last year is keeping the ball down," said the 21-year-old left-hander from Cordova, Tenn. "It completely changes the game. I realized that during the Miami game last year. It doesn't matter how hard you throw, you have to keep the ball down or they're going to hit it. Keep the ball down and good things can happen."
The Miami game he referred to is the championship game in the Coral Gables Regional when the powerful and No. 1 ranked Hurricanes beat the Rebels 11-2. Baker started and went two and a third innings, allowing four earned runs on eight hits with a strikeout and a walk.
He'd also started the SEC Tournament title game against LSU, an 8-2 Tiger victory. He went four innings allowing three earned runs on five hits with two Ks and no walks.
Needless to say, he's been in some high-profile situations.
"I don't know if I could say it was a good experience, but it was a different experience," the personable Baker said of his time on the mound facing the potent Miami hitters.
He actually said those situations have made him a better pitcher. He's been getting ready for this spring ever since.
"I had a good summer and at the end of the summer I felt I was as good as anybody could be," he said. "In the fall I was a little sick but I felt my mechanics were where they needed to be. I'm still developing a curve ball which will help me out a lot. I've also worked on getting a good changeup, and I feel I can command that anytime in the count."
Mentally Baker said going through some of those tough times and living to tell about them have helped his outlook.
"The game's all about confidence," he said. "It's so mental, and I learned that. If you feel you're full of confidence, then anything's possible."
For Baker, that possibility includes being a weekend starter this season on a staff that appears to have spots available.
"I think we're a good staff," he said. "I have a lot of respect for the guys, and we have a lot of talented newcomers. There's great potential out there on this staff. We have many talented guys."
Including Nathan Baker.
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