GRANVILLE — It was a scouting report and maybe pure curiosity that got Blaine Traxel to become a sidearm pitcher.
“If you know his story, it’s a tremendous story to how he got to where he’s at,” WVU manager Randy Mazey said after the No. 24 Mountaineers ran past Xavier 7-2 on Saturday at Mon County Ballpark. “He’s got perseverance. He’s a winner, has heart.”
And so, it has to be asked of Traxel, who came up with his fourth complete game and his fifth win of the season, just what is his story?
It begins in Burbank, Calif., with Traxel trying to develop into a high school pitcher worthy of college attention.
“No one recruited him,” said Mazey, who recorded his 500th career win as a collegiate manager.
That was until Traxel and his high school coach saw one of the best teams in the state struggle to hit against a sidearm pitcher.
“My coach asked me if I was interested in giving it a try,” Traxel said.
He did. He won and he kept on with his awkward look as a sidearmer.
“It kind of looks like I’m playing wiffle ball when I pitch,” said Traxel, who scattered seven hits, allowed two runs and struck out seven. “I just kind of stuck with it and realized that’s where I’d be successful.”
He signed with Cal State Northridge, where former WVU pitching coach Dave Serrano was on the staff, and then he also toyed with pitching with a more traditional release.
It eventually got to the point where Traxel found himself with about six different release points, all of them confusing to a hitter, who has no idea what angle Traxel will release the ball from next.
“Nothing he throws is straight,” said WVU second baseman J.J. Wetherholt, who had four hits, including a three-run home run in the eighth inning that broke the game open. “He throws from different arm slots and messes with the hitter’s timing. His tempo is different. He’s kind of got an auto-arm, wherever he wants to throw it, he throws it.”
It was Serrano who gave Mazey a heads up when Traxel entered the transfer portal for his final season of eligibility, and Traxel has brought the Mountaineers (18-5) a unique characteristic to the team.
Traxel does not overpower hitters — his fastball maxed out around 86 mph on Saturday — but his different release points also takes stress off his right shoulder, allowing him to stay in games.
“He only threw, like, 110 pitches, which is like a day off for him,” Mazey said. “Somebody asked me about his pitch count and I said I could care less about his pitch count. He gets better as he goes. He’s better at pitch 100 than he is at pitch one. When he pitches a game, he wants to pitch the (whole) game, which is pretty cool.”
It also bucks a trend. In six games, Traxel (5-1) has thrown four complete games. In the major leagues, complete games are more of a rarity. The league leader last season — Miami’s Sandy Alcantara — threw six of them. No other MLB starter had more than three. Among Big 12 pitchers, there have only been five complete games thrown this season, and Traxel has all but one of them.
“The only reason he doesn’t have six (complete games) is because I took him out twice when I didn’t have to,” Mazey said. “He could’ve gone another three innings, it doesn’t matter to him.”
On a windy day, the only damage Xavier (10-12) did against Traxel was two solo home runs. Otherwise, Xavier never got a runner past second base.
WVU, meanwhile, saw Ellis Garcia homer in the fourth inning, while Wetherholt and Braden Barry hit back-to-back home runs in the eighth to break open a 3-2 game.
Wetherholt also doubled off the top of the wall and singled twice, giving him a nine-game hit streak and his 14th multi-hit game of the season. He continues to lead the Big 12 with a .474 batting average.
Garcia, Barry and Dayne Leonard each added two hits and Barry added two RBIs.
The final game of the three-game series begins at 1 p.m. today, with the Mountaineers going for their third three-game sweep of the season.