Kirby righted ship as sophomore
By Parrish Alford, Daily Journal
OMAHA, Neb. – Virginia center fielder Brandon Downes noticed a change in his teammate at the beginning of the season.
There was great potential in Nathan Kirby, a lefty pitcher, as a freshman in 2013, but the first time through the ACC wasn’t very easy.
At times, Virginia coach Brian O’Connor had to try and talk his young pitcher down from the ledge.
“I’d give up a couple of hits, and I’d start – he would call it running around the mound – and I’d start trying to throw harder, and he would say, ‘You just need to calm down, go back to the basics and do your job’ and not worry about trying to throw it by everybody,” Kirby said.
The end result was a bloated earned run average of 6.06 in 322⁄3 innings.
Kirby has shown himself to be a much more mature pitcher in 2014, a change Downes connects with Kirby’s summer ball experience a year ago.
Kirby (9-2) will take the mound tonight as the ace of a staff that ranks fifth in the nation with a 2.21 ERA. He’s been a big part of the success with a 1.73 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 104 innings. He’s walked only 25 batters.
However, Kirby, like Ole Miss starter Chris Ellis, is coming off a less than impressive super regional start.
He lasted just 4-2⁄3 innings, allowing seven hits and five runs – all earned – as Virginia lost its opener 5-4 against Maryland.
“Stuff just didn’t go his way. Pitches, some just stayed up, some weren’t in the zone as well. You can’t have a good start every game,” Downes said.
Downes has seen enough in Kirby’s turnaround season that his confidence isn’t shaken.
“Last year he was a little inexperienced,” Downes said. “I thought his stuff was pretty raw. After going away for summer ball it looks like he’s a lot more mature and in command of his stuff. He’s been our best pitcher so far, a good lock for our Friday nights. He’s the kind of guy that makes you feel really safe with him being out there.”