Vance threw a complete game in his first career collegiate start to splash onto the scene against Ohio State, and largely maintained that level of play throughout the rest of the year and into the early portions of 2015. But after three quality starts to open this season, including at Clemson and an 8.2-innings-pitched performance at Coastal Carolina in a no decision, the left-hander was roughed up in his first two Big 12 starts. Texas pounded out 10 hits and six runs, four earned, over 7.1 innings before Baylor chased that with eight runs, six earned, as Vance threw just 52 pitches over three innings in the 10-4 loss.
The outings forced a check-up on routine, practice habits and general overall approach leading into the typical middle start of the weekend series. The culprit, it was decided, was largely the midweek throwing regiment, which was tiring the junior and causing less snap on his fastball and movement on the array of offspeed pitches that have become Vance’s trademark.
“There were some things that were making me uncomfortable on the mound the last couple outings, and I worked on that,” Vance said after scattering six hits over eight innings in a 9-2 win over Charleston Southern last weekend. “I shortened my midweek throws and limited pitches. It made me feel more comfortable, and feeling comfortable and feeling good was a big difference.
“For example, the Baylor start I felt tired and my stuff looked flat and lackluster. I felt fatigue. Shortening up and giving my arm at least a little rest made it feel better. I didn’t have my breaking ball as much (against CSU), but the fastball had the movement that it needed. I wanted to wear them out with the fastball and go ahead and let the other stuff compliment it.”
The Buccaneers, which struggled to produce any offense in scoring just four runs the entire three-game series, struck out nine times against Vance, managing just one earned run before he was pulled after the eighth inning following 105 pitches. The fastball pop and location were among the best of the season, and Vance noted that he felt as good going into the eighth inning as he had over the first seven, when he shutout Charleston Southern. In all, Vance faced 30 batters over eight frames, just six above the minimum.
“That was the Ross Vance that we know and love,” head coach Randy Mazey said. “That was super encouraging because the last few times out he hasn’t been all that sharp. This time, this was as good as Vance has been in a year. I’ll feel really good about our chances to win when he takes the mound next time knowing he has that stuff.”
The 105 pitches, 68 for strikes, were just the fourth highest count for Vance of the season, and the McKinney, Tex. native said he could have finished but that he had “reached a moderately high pitch count and there really was no point in me going back out there with that lead and then building upon that lead (in the bottom of the 8th). There wasn’t a reason for it. I always want to come out for the ninth. I figure any game I start is mine and I like to finish any game I am in, but at the end that was the plan.
“(The start) built up my confidence for the next couple days,” Vance said. “It kinda will lift my mood from last week and it tells me what else I need to work on and gives me the confidence that whatever I need to work on, maybe throwing my fastball or breaking ball better, I can do that. It’s enjoy it one day, and the next day right back to work to get ready for the next one.”
Which should help entering tonight’s start at Kansas State, where Vance (3-2, 3.45 ERA) will try to best a KSU program that is 3-4 against the Mountaineers over the last two-plus seasons. West Virginia (16-11, 2-5 Big 12) is in danger of falling into ninth place in the Big 12 with a series loss after the Wildcats (13-14, 2-5) soundly snapped WVU’s season-best seven-game winning streak in an 8-2 win on Thursday. The defeat makes Vance’s start even more imperative in securing at least one game in the three and setting up the possibility of taking a conference road series for the first time since taking two of three from Oklahoma in mid-April last year. WVU is just 9-22 in Big 12 road games all-time and has lost eight of the 10 away series to date, three by sweep. The Mountaineers, 15-4 when scoring first against just 1-7 when foes secure the initial run, haven’t won a game when trailing after the sixth inning this season.
“I try to pitch my game,” Vance said. “I really don’t scout the other teams and what they do much. I like to make them adjust to what I do. I want to challenge them to hit my game. I try to go out there and throw my game.”