Written by Corbett Smith
Richardson Berkner pitcher Jacob Patterson has strikeout game down, but mental aspect sets him apart
RICHARDSON — Standing alone on the mound, staring down a batter, it’s hard for a successful high school pitcher to sublimate his ego. If the pitcher’s stuff is good enough, a strikeout is there for the taking.
“Guys that can strike people out want to strike people out,” Rockwall-Heath coach Greg Harvey said.
However, sometimes it is best — for the team or the pitcher himself — to induce a groundout instead of chasing another “K,” keeping the pitch count low. Finding that balance between effectiveness and efficiency is essential.
Perhaps no high schooler in the area understands that balance better than Richardson Berkner senior Jacob Patterson.
In eight starts this season, Patterson has eight double-digit strikeout games. Yet, he rarely hits the threshold on his 100-pitch limit; in one of his three 17-strikeout games, he threw just 85 pitches.
“Anywhere he wants to put it, he can do it with any of his pitches at any time,” Berkner pitching coach Trent Starnes said.
At 6-1 and 170 pounds, Patterson isn’t your typical barrel-chested flame thrower.
“When you see him in the hallway, he’s not intimidating,” Berkner coach John Tovar said. “He looks like an electrical engineer.”
A Texas Tech signee, Patterson has led the Dallas-Fort Worth area in strikeouts the past two seasons. This year, Patterson is 5-2 with a 0.25 ERA. His 120 strikeouts (to only eight walks) are the most in all classifications, public or private. In fact, the left-hander has nearly a third more strikeouts than the next-best pitcher.
“I don’t want to say it’s natural because I don’t want to sound cocky, but I’ve always had the mentality of trying to keep kids off balance — throw my off-speed — so I can keep them guessing,” he said.
Change the eye level of a pitch, and an 87-mph fastball might look like a 97-mph fastball. Inverse the normal order of pitches: Start with a backdoor slider and end with a fastball that runs away from right-handers.
“Get it close to the zone, and get it to fall out — and most kids will chase after it,” Patterson said.
It’s this mental aspect that separates “throwers from pitchers,” Harvey said.
A former minor league pitcher, Harvey has coached two of the area’s most dynamic arms in recent years: junior Tyler Ivey (a Texas A&M pledge) and Jake Thompson, a hard-throwing righty who led Heath to the 2012 Class 4A title. Thompson has been outstanding in rookie and high-A leagues for the Detroit Tigers organization.
“At every level I pitched — from high school to college to pro — hell, I wanted to strike everyone out,” Harvey said. “I get it. But with my guys, I stress that we are going to pitch to contact early, and if the guy doesn’t hit it, then you can go for the strikeout.”
After all, both Harvey and Patterson said, it’s the final score that matters.
“Striking out guys is nice, but you just don’t want them to cross the plate,” Patterson said.