Ross Vance has been spectacular in his three starts for West Virginia over the past two weeks. His numbers include a 0.86 WHIP, a 9:1 strikeout to walk ratio and just three walks in 22 innings. He's yielded just one earned run in each of the three starts, baffling hitters with a variety of pitches and speeds that keep them off balance.
"I love it. I know they go out there and see a little guy coming to the mound and they say 'Let's rake today,'" Vance said. "I know every time that happens they get frustrated. It's frustrating to get put out by someone that doesn't throw very hard."
Head coach Randy Mazey echoes the sentiment, and has also noticed the emotion from the opposing dugout.
"Hitters walk back to the dugout and they are talking to each other and frustrated. Hitting coaches are having meetings trying to figure out how [to him him]. "He's just getting people out."
Vance's success has been a while in coming, however. An arm injury and resulting Tommy John surgery (repair of the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow) combined to keep him out of the entire 2011 and 2012 seasons.
"I hurt it and that kept me out that year, and then I had the surgery later and that kept me out the second year," Vance said. "While I was out, I studied other pitchers, and watched a lot and tried to learn as much as I could."
Vance came back from his two-year hiatus to record an 8-3 record at Dodge City Community College in 2013. He showed many of the abilities there that he has demonstrated in his starts for WVU, as he struck out 55 batters in 67.1 innings while recording a 2.00 ERA.
While Vance, like any competitor, didn't like sitting out, he used the time to his advantage. It's helped him be even more of a craftsman on the mound, where he varies his speed and arm angle to confuse hitters. The injury didn't change his pitching style -- he's never been a power hurler -- but it did allow him to add even more to his knowledge of the game.
"I consider myself a student of the game. I've studied the game," he said of his approach to pitching. "You can tell a little bit what the hitters are sitting on, and then you work against that."
That workmanlike approach contrasts with his view of himself on the field, where he carries a bit of the underdog approach.
"On the mound, I feel like I'm 6-8, 260," said Vance, who's listed at six feet and 165 pounds on West Virginia's roster. "I don't think about my size. But I do enjoy that, the being overlooked, a little bit."
Vance doesn't blow anyone away, like teammates Harrison Musgrave or Sean Carley. Instead, he sets batters up with a variety of pitches from different angles. He can drop down to a full sidearm motion, which is particularly tough on those hitting from the left side, and has several different breaking pitches that he's confident in throwing in about any situation.
"You just go our there and throw your game," he said, noting that he tries to approach every situation the same. " I love it when they go back and I hear yells and them throwing stuff in the dugout. That's great."