OMAHA, NE- The best compliment you can probably pay Minnesota freshman starting pitcher Patrick Fredrickson at this point is that his success has become routine, both within scope of a single start and over the course of the entire season.
In any single game, he may not dominate in a traditional sense. Take his outstanding performance in Saturday’s 8-1 win over Ohio State, a win that moved the Gophers to the Big Ten tournament final, as an example. He threw six innings, giving up just two hits, two walks, and one run, which came on a Tyler Cowles solo homer in the first. Along the way, he had just one strikeout, but there’s no denying that he was in completely control at every stage.
He faced the minimum in innings two, three, and four, and it wasn’t until the sixth inning that another Ohio State baserunner reached second base. When he exited after the sixth, he had thrown just 77 pitches. If the Golden Gophers had wanted to push the issue, they almost certainly could have gotten at least another inning from him, but the combination of temperatures in the mid-90s, Minnesota’s big lead, and wanting to watch his workload as the team approaches regionals next weekend led to him being removed when he was.
It was workmanlike, it was mundane in how easily he worked his way through the Ohio State lineup, and it was efficient. In a nutshell, it was another day at the office for Patrick Fredrickson.
“I guess the formula once again with Patrick on the mound was for him to pound the zone with three pitches, and for us to make some plays on defense,” Anderson said. “That’s been what we’ve done all year long. He gave up the home run on the 0-2 pitch…the impressive part is he got the next hitter out and then got back to doing his thing.”
When you take a wider view of his season, which ended with him being named both the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year, you can see that this has been par for the course and that this particular start was really just a microcosm of his campaign at large. So many of his numbers indicate dominance over the opposition. His 1.78 ERA. His .201 opponent batting average. His more than 3.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
But he’s not a huge strikeout guy. His 63 punch outs in 86 innings of work isn’t anything to sneeze at, but it’s certainly not the type of eye-popping figure you often see with a classically dominant pitcher. You also don’t see a lot of egregious swings and misses from hitters when he’s on the mound.
Rather, not all that dissimilar to his rotation mate Reggie Meyer, who spun a gem on Thursday against Illinois, he dominates with a combination that coaches will tell you is undefeated, sink and run, which allows him to get a ton of ground balls and a variety of mishit bloops and soft fly balls that find fielders more often than not.
“First and foremost, when you’ve got sink and run like that, it’s hard to square the ball up,” Anderson said. “That’s what he has. He has late sink, you think it’s here and all of the sudden it’s here, and then you throw in the changeup, which he developed last fall, and he’s got an outstanding changeup…Don’t discount sink and run. You saw it out of Reggie Meyer the other night, and him, and for our guys, the hardest guys are the guys that have sink and run and changeups. They’re the hardest guys to hit, and the ball’s moving all over the place, and you’ve got to time it up and be on plane, and it’s hard. He’s got that ability to miss the barrel of the bat, and we’ve got a good defense, and so they’ve been able to make plays for him too, and I think that gives him more confidence that he’s going to fill up the bottom of the zone, he knows the guys are going to make the plays for him.”
It’s clear from the numbers and accolades that Fredrickson isn’t your typical freshman pitcher, but the examples go so far beyond what he does on the mound.
He’s also an incredibly well spoken guy, and based on anecdotes from his head coach John Anderson, he’s quite intellectually curious, even during the heat of a game. After his start in the team’s series against Ohio State in late-April, Anderson shared that Fredrickson’s shockingly laid back demeanor is expressed in the fact that he can often be found having deep conversations about completely unrelated topics with his teammates in the dugout, as if it’s one of his off days and not a day when he’s trying to win a Big Ten game.
When you so often see examples of pitchers who prefer to sit on their own in the corner of the dugout, staring at the ground silently, this makes the big righty from Washington unique. Anderson reiterated that after Saturday’s game.
“He’s a unique young man. He’s a very thoughtful young man,” Anderson said. “Actually, there are times when he’s pitching that he’s in the dugout having conversations with guys about world issues, different things that are going on. You wouldn’t even know he was in the game. He doesn’t make it bigger than it really is.
“He calls me Coach John. He’ll ask me ‘Coach John, how are you doing?’ We’re in the middle of the game and he acts like he’s sitting on the beach just enjoying himself. It’s a rare quality. It’s a great quality to have. He hasn’t made the stage bigger than it really is.”
So now he’s here, the Big Ten’s top pitcher, and leading a team that’s more than likely going to be hosting a regional next weekend, but if you asked him before the season, he would have said he just expected to hold down a lesser role on the pitching staff and to get the chance to have a relatively slow introduction into Division I college baseball.
“Honestly, I’ve said this before, coming in I was looking to get just 20, 25, 30 innings to just sort of dip my toes into college baseball,” Fredrickson said. “I sort of struggled in the fall a little bit, and then this winter, really worked on developing a changeup. In winter sessions, just being able to throw three pitches, and next thing you know, I get an opportunity to play, and then after that, get another opportunity, and just sort of (was) able to work my way into the rotation after a few weeks, and here we are, still battling and fighting to win this thing.”
Count these as opportunities of which Fredrickson has taken full advantage.