Wilson Weekly: Kinneman on the Mound?

The junior outfielder made his first collegiate pitching appearance Wednesday versus Charlotte. Site Administrator Daniel Wilson asks if this trend should continue.

NC State junior outfielder Brett Kinneman has made his mark within the program in his first two years. His prowess at the plate and his clutch moments have given the Wolfpack plenty to celebrate, especially now that he is draft-eligible this year.

That being said, many considered it a bold choice when head coach Elliott Avent decided to put the York, Pa. native on the mound in a crucial situation against Charlotte Wednesday evening.

“We went into the game thinking we basically had [freshman left-handed pitcher Nick] Swiney, [junior right-hander Reid] Johnston, and Kinneman,” Avent told the media after the game. “He’s much better than [how he pitched against the 49ers], but what a competitor he was.”

Pitching Debut

After the Niners plated two runs to cut the Wolfpack’s lead to three, Kinneman came in from left field to relieve Swiney. He walked the first batter he faced on five pitches before recording his first strikeout. However, on the third strike, the two runners on base advanced to second and third on a passed ball.

The next batter to face Kinneman hit a sacrifice fly that plated another Charlotte run. What followed was another walk, an RBI single, and a two-RBI double that gave the 49ers the lead. That was when pitching coach Scott Foxhall said enough was enough.

Redemption

Freshman righty Josh Pike came into the game to record the final out of the inning. After a quiet bottom half of the seventh, the Wolfpack turned the game around with four runs in the eighth. After redshirt sophomore infielder Dillon Cooper tied the game with an RBI single that drove freshman infielder J.T. Jarrett home, Kinneman drove in senior first baseman Shane Shepard for the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly.

The Pack ended up winning the game, 9-6. Sophomore southpaw Kent Klyman picked up his first win of the season, and redshirt senior right-hander Joe O’Donnell earned his 10th career save. The experiment to put Kinneman on the mound didn’t end up costing State in the win/loss column, but this begs the question: should this be a one-off appearance or something that happens regularly?

Moving Forward

Obviously, the gut reaction to something like this is to say, “NO!” A team that was being handily defeated comes back to lead the game after one pitching change? That seems unforgivable for the pitcher responsible, especially one who was a position player prior to the switch. However, there’s precedence that shouldn’t be overlooked.

At West York Area High School, Kinneman not only finished his senior year with a .278 batting average, 26 runs scored, and 19 stolen bases; but he also held a 5-0 record on the mound with a 2.33 ERA, 42 strikeouts, and 31 walks in 33 innings.

Kinneman also had one pitching appearance for the Cotuit Kettleers in the Cape Cod League this past summer against the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. Though he started strong with a 1-2-3 inning, he gave up a solo home run in the next frame to Arizona’s Nicholas Quintana. Two batters later, he allowed a single before forcing a double play to get out of the inning.

Also, consider the fact that two-way players in college baseball aren’t exactly an anomaly. Brendan McKay, arguably the best player in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season, drew national attention as a heavy-hitting first baseman and a nearly flawless left-handed pitcher. The Louisville starting pitcher won the John Olerud Award three years in a row before the Tampa Bay Rays selected him in last year’s draft with the fourth overall pick.

In addition, Boston College made use of one of its best hitters as a reliever. Donovan Casey hit .286 in his final year as an Eagle with two home runs, 20 RBI, 39 runs scored. He also held a 5-2 record as the team’s regular closer with a 2.84 ERA, five saves, and 32 strikeouts in 31-2/3 innings.

The trend of having position players also pitch is there, and I think that the Wolfpack should go all in on it. I’m not necessarily in favor of Kinneman coming in to pitch as a reliever but rather have him start midweek games.

State can list Kinneman as the designated hitter in games he starts, and when he gets taken out of the game, he can still be kept in the batting order. It would also keep him from having to warm up before heading back to the outfield to cool down only to be inserted mid-inning like Wednesday’s game.

Plus, this would allow sophomore outfielder Lawson McArthur and freshman outfielder Terrell Tatum the opportunity to get more time in the field. The major downside is that Avent would have to choose between sophomore Brad Debo (the regular DH) and freshman Patrick Bailey to start behind the plate as catcher (because the Pack has an embarrassment of riches at that position), but that’s more or less a good problem to have.

But the fact of the matter is that, despite how much I may want him to start, the Wolfpack is thin in the bullpen as of now. Redshirt junior right-hander Austin Staley is down, sophomore righty Michael Bienlien is not quite at 100 percent, sophomore righty Dalton Feeney is out for the year, and the remaining arms are either untested freshmen or reliable arms when rested but can become erratic when throwing every single game.

Kinneman should be given another opportunity to pitch to make up for his less-than-stellar outing versus Charlotte. At this point, having an extra security blanket on the mound is more beneficial to the team rather than watching the few pitchers left get tired too quickly or even injured.

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