Reinventing Gilmore

The story of pitcher Jeff Gilmore's rise was certainly one of the best of the 2004 season. After throwing only 2 1/3 innings as a freshman, Gilmore burst onto the scene last year compiling a 10-2 record as Stanford's #2 starting pitcher. Here are all of the details of the path this right-hander took in becoming one of the top pitchers in the conference.

The transformation underwent by Stanford pitcher Jeff Gilmore from his freshman to sophomore year was undeniably one of the top stories of the 2004 season.  As a freshman in '03, Gilmore saw action in only three contests totaling 2 1/3 innings.  However, he came back to the Farm the next fall and dazzled as arguably Stanford's top pitcher during intrasquad games.  He kept the momentum going through the start of the regular season and it only took until week #2 of the '04 campaign for Head Coach Mark Marquess to insert Gilmore into the rotation as the Saturday starter.  What followed was a solid, and sometimes even spectacular, season that saw Gilmore compile a 10-2 record and a 4.43 ERA over 107 2/3 innings pitched.  His season ended with a bang as the Huntington Beach, California native fired a complete-game victory in the Cardinal's regional opener against UNLV allowing just three earned runs in the process.

The start of the 2005 season has arrived and Gilmore is ready to take another step forward, but lets first examine the how and why of his rapid improvement at this time a year ago.

Gilmore came to Stanford, like just about every recruit, as an all-everything player in high school.  However, his arrival was overshadowed considering he was in the same class as lefty Mark Romanczuk – widely considered one of the top high school pitchers in the country back in 2002.  And then like most hurlers, it was a difficult adjustment period during that very first fall season.

"My freshman year, I'm really not kidding, I think my ERA during the fall was well over 11," says Gilmore.  "I was so pleased to have an outing that had one inning where I didn't give up a run."

A high ERA for a freshman pitcher is certainly not uncommon during the fall when you consider the type of hitters they're going up against in these intrasquad games (2003 featured the likes of All-Americans Carlos Quentin, Ryan Garko, and Sam Fuld to name a few).  But red flags were popping up all over the place for Gilmore as he began to search for the right ingredients needed to succeed at this level.

"I had to admit I didn't have what it took and I had to come up with a new game plan," he says.  "It wasn't that I was scared.  I was going right after guys right up there with the best competitors on the team like Ryan McCally.  I knew that wasn't the problem.  It was hard to admit, but I had to.  I had to tell myself, ‘you don't have the stuff right now to get hitters out.  You are not fooling anyone.  Furthermore, you're not throwing hard enough to get away with anything.'  I had to rethink everything I did as a pitcher."

Gilmore continues, "I knew I had good control, but I was working right into the hitters' favor because they knew I was going to be around the plate and they knew I was going to throw something that they could hit.  So I had to start throwing something that was harder to hit.  I learned Mike Mussina's curve ball.  I learned a new change-up, a split-change.  And I started throwing almost exclusively cut-fastballs as if it was straight fastballs.  Because I thought 86 (miles per hour) straight - not going to get it done.  But maybe low 80's cutter - we're going to have a chance there."

The unique set of pitches immediately starting paying dividends.  Mussina's curve ball is widely known as a knuckle-curve, but it's certainly a pitch easier said than done.  Gilmore, however, would find a way to make it work for him.  Meanwhile, the change-up he started to throw was perhaps more unique.  I've often had the chance to sit behind home plate with a handful of MLB scouts when Gilmore is pitching.  They're all mystified by this change-up.  It's a pitch with a very different spin on the ball that's also coming in at a similar velocity as the curve ball (most change-ups are thrown harder than the normal curve ball).  When it's on, it's nearly impossible to hit.  And when Gilmore throws it, all the scouts (at least the ones who are unfamiliar with his repertoire) are baffled at what the pitch was and how he's able to be so effective with it.

If you haven't figured it out already, Jeff Gilmore is not your typical college pitcher.  Most pitchers at age 18, if something is going wrong, don't have the ability or desire to completely change everything about their game.  But the heady Gilmore saw something had to be done, went out and did it, and is now reaping the rewards.

"I'm always looking for a new thing to do," remarks Gilmore.  "Last year at one point, (fellow pitcher) Drew Ehrlich said, ‘do you work on a new pitch every single day?"  The answer is no, but it is probably every single week.  I'm always trying to find something else because I really don't have the tools that most of the guys on the team have.  So I have to go with something that starts working.  Halfway through my freshman year I started making these changes with the new pitches and my success started then."

After Gilmore's breakout 2004 season, he went on to play in the high-profile Alaska League.  After a full year of starting though, Gilmore found himself in the role of a closer.  This move may have had Stanford fans scratching their heads, but there was certainly a good reason for the change.

"In the interest of my arm, I told my coaches that I wanted to be in the bullpen," says Gilmore.  "So they moved me right into the closer's role immediately which I've never done in my life."

Based on the numbers he put up, you certainly wouldn't have guessed he's never closed in his life.  Pitching for the league champion Mat-Su Miners, Gilmore recorded a sparkling 0.67 ERA in 27 innings.  He allowed just 13 hits with six walks and an eye-popping 40 strike outs.

"I got by with what I had as kind of an offspeed closer," remembers Gilmore.  "A combination of good control and throwing against wood bats made my numbers look really terrific.  For the college level, I think I'm more suited to go longer and face guys two or three times in a day and try to outthink them with different pitches.  The closer's role is really adrenaline-pumping."

Despite the fantastic summer as a closer, make no mistake, Jeff Gilmore will remain in the starting rotation in this is junior season.  He forms what could be one of the top starting trios on the west coast, if not the nation with his classmate Romanczuk occupying the Friday slot and likely either Greg Reynolds or Blake Holler moving into the Sunday position.  But don't think Gilmore is content with the success he's enjoyed over the last calendar year.

"I'm working on a new change-up right now," he says.  "I've been talking with especially the left-handed hitters, mainly Jed (Lowrie), on a new change-up.  Some of the hitters said ‘you've got that funky split-change that you can throw for a strike, I don't know how you do it and it's great you can throw it for a strike, but sometimes we can see it because it comes out a little wobbly, so maybe you want to develop another one.'   So I've been doing that."

And as to the overall goal of the season, Gilmore, who no doubt learned a tremendous amount back in his freshman year from former All-American John Hudgins, comes back with this statement:

"Right now, my goal is to do what John Hudgins did his junior year.  And that is 80% of the time that guy pitched for us his junior year he gave us a good chance to win.  He started and gave us a good chance to win four out of five times.  10% of the time he gave us a very good-to-excellent chance to win with a dominant outing.  And 10% of the time he didn't have a good outing.  That's my goal right now is four out of five times to give our team a chance to win and with the hitters we have, that's not asking much."

If Gilmore is able to come up with a season that mirrors the one of a mentor of his, then the sky is the limit for the 2005 Stanford Cardinal baseball team.

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