Cal State Fuller­ton pitcher’s de­gree of ac­cu­racy com­mands at­ten­tion as the Ti­tans head to an NCAA su­per re­gional

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Chris Foster

Maybe it was the dog col­lar, the one de­signed to give elec­tric shocks to en­cour­age proper be­hav­ior.

It’s as good an ex­pla­na­tion as any for Cal State Fuller­ton pitcher Thomas Eshel­man’s ac­cu­racy when throw­ing the base­ball.

Eshel­man has walked 17 bat­ters in 3621⁄ innings over three sea­sons with the Ti­tans.

His pre­ci­sion can be traced to child­hood. Eshel­man was a hu­man guinea pig for his brother Sam, who is eight years older. If Sam saw some­thing on tele­vi­sion, or had an idle thought, Thomas was his beta test.

It is how Thomas be­came a pitcher. Sam watched Chan Ho Park throw­ing on the tube one day, then took his 10-year-old brother to the backyard to ex­per­i­ment.

“He’s a guy who is re­ally an­a­lyt­i­cal about the game, no mat­ter what the game is,” Thomas said of his brother. “I was kind of like his dummy. He brought me out to the mound and we’d do things.”

There was no

end to Sam Eshel­man’s in­quis­i­tive mind.

“Yeah, he put a dog shock col­lar on me when I was 11, just to see if it would work,” Thomas said. “It did. I was gullible. Maybe that’s why my arm is the way it is.”

Sam laughed, and said, “I can’t be­lieve he told you that one. But maybe we could talk to some pitch­ing coaches about this.”

Maybe. If there was a way to bot­tle and bond Thomas Eshel­man’s abil­i­ties, pitch­ing coaches would put their money down.

Fuller­ton plays at Louisville on Satur­day in the opener of a best-of-three­games NCAA su­per re­gional, and Car­di­nals bat­ters should be ad­vised to come out swing­ing. Eshel­man is go­ing to throw strikes.

“It’s crazy,” Fuller­ton Coach Rick Van­der­hook said, then rued, “It’s go­ing to be a sad day when he leaves.”

That de­pends on what dugout you’re in.

“He seems like a grounded, blue-col­lar, hum­ble kid,” UC Irvine Coach Mike Gille­spie said. “I’ll just be glad when he’s gone.”

Ask Eshel­man when he last walked a bat­ter, and he has a quick an­swer: “[UC] Santa Bar­bara.” That was a month ago. Ask about the pre­vi­ous bat­ter he walked, and, again, Eshel­man, has it on the tip of his tongue: “Mary­land,” he said. That was nearly two months ago.

It was Eshel­man’s last loss — which he took de­spite not giv­ing up an earned run in a 2-1 de­ci­sion. In six starts since, he is 5-0 with a 0.54 earned-run av­er­age.

Over­all, Eshel­man has a record of 8-5, but Fuller­ton scored four runs in those losses.

Eshel­man had a no-de­ci­sion in the Ti­tans’ marathon 14-in­ning victory over Ari­zona State in the Fuller­ton re­gional last Satur­day. He went nine innings and threw 143 pitches, 103 for strikes. His 14 strike­outs were a ca­reer high.

“He paints my glove,” catcher A.J. Kennedy said. “Maybe I have to reach for a cou­ple pitches.”

Kennedy at­tributes Eshel­man’s ef­fi­ciency to his work ethic.

“A lot of peo­ple — fans and scouts — see the view from the stands,” Kennedy said. “They don’t see the off-the-field stuff. He ex­cels in the class­room. He ex­cels in the weight room. He does ev­ery­thing right.”

He showed up at Fuller­ton with a de­gree in ad­vanced place­ment.

“We al­ways run a string across the plate in the bullpen, about knee high, and he kept pluck­ing it the first day he was here,” Van­der­hook said.

That kind of ac­cu­racy makes it strange, in hind­sight, that Fuller­ton was the only Di­vi­sion I school to of­fer Eshel­man a schol­ar­ship.

“If you’re a right-han­der and not throw­ing 94-95 [mph], you tend to get over- looked,” Gille­spie said.

Eshel­man’s fast­ball hits the low 90s.

“He still has to fight that stigma,” said Sam Eshel­man, an as­sis­tant bas­ket­ball coach at the Army-Navy Academy in Carlsbad. “It mo­ti­vates him, keeps him hum­ble.”

Sam helped with that as well. “I thought our par­ents were too soft on him,” he said, laugh­ing. “I was the older brother, so I tried to give him bruises.”

He gave him a lot more.

“Sam re­ally taught me the coach­able part of the game,” Thomas said. “I was able to adapt to what he was telling me to do. It was an ad­van­tage, es­pe­cially in my col­lege ca­reer.”

Eshel­man has a 28-11 ca­reer record at Fuller­ton, with a 1.65 ERA. He started his col­lege ca­reer by go­ing 64 innings with­out walk­ing a bat­ter.

“I had played with some pretty high-level guys in high school,” said Kennedy, a ju­nior. “At first, I thought, ‘Who is this goofy guy?’ Then I saw him pitch and went, ‘Wow.’ ”

It wasn’t just Eshel­man’s ac­cu­racy. “His stuff is le­git,” Kennedy said.

It has to be. Be­ing so ac­cu­rate means bat­ters show up ready to hit. Eshel­man serves a va­ri­ety of off-speed pitches.

“He doesn’t use a lot of the plate,” Gille­spie said. “You feel like you bet­ter try to sit on lo­ca­tion early in the count.”

And how did Gille­spie’s team ap­ply that strat­egy? “Un­suc­cess­fully,” the coach said.

UC Irvine can get in line. That tends to be the case for op­po­nents when Eshel­man is on the mound.

“I will be shocked if he is not a first-round pick,” Gille­spie said.

Shocked. Good choice of words.

Shot­gun Spratling Los An­ge­les Times

THOMAS ESHEL­MAN had a ca­reer-high 14 strike­outs against Ari­zona State last Satur­day.

Matt Brown

CAL STATE FULLER­TON’S Thomas Eshel­man, left, bumps fists with in­fielder Dustin Vaught in Fe­bru­ary game; the Ti­tans will face Louisville on Satur­day.

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