St. Vincent lefty making waves
Once or twice a week last summer, St. Vincent College pitcher Max Henry would head to the back yard of his Latrobe home to work on his control. The Latrobe graduate would tape a box representing the strike zone on a wall then begin to pitch.
"I would just pick a spot, like up and in, out and in, low and away, low and in, and I would throw 10 each to that spot," Henry said. "I wouldn't chart myself, but I would think about how many times I hit that spot."
The goal was to make himself a better, more consistent pitcher, and judging by his first two starts of the season, it appears he's succeeded.
The sophomore left-hander is 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA this season for the red-hot Bearcats (8-2). He was named the Presidents' Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Week on March 12 after pitching a complete game in his first outing of the season, an 8-1 victory over Cazenovia (N.Y.).
"I take it as a great accomplishment to be recognized after a first start like this, but I don't want to take all the credit," Henry said. "There was a lot of good defense played behind me."
The PAC honor isn't the first time Henry has made a name for himself at St. Vincent. Last season, he set a school record when he struck out 13 batters in a victory over Bethany (W.Va.), a performance for which he drew Pitcher of the Week honors from the National College Baseball Writers Association. For the season, he notched 45 strikeouts in 28 1⁄3 innings.
Still, Henry looked at his overall statistics -- 2-0 with a 5.40 ERA and 12 walks in those 28-plus innings -- and thought he needed to get better.
"I had a problem last year," Henry said. "Yeah, I would get 10 strikeouts, (but) I would walk six guys. I'd throw a lot of balls."
So began the exercises in the back yard. Henry also credited his American Legion coach, Jason Bush -- a former St. Vincent assistant -- for helping him with his accuracy.
St. Vincent coach Mick Janosko also had his southpaw in mind over the off-season. Janosko hired Adam Dukate -- a lefty who pitched at California (Pa.) -- as graduate assistant in order to work with the pitchers.
Dukate said a big reason Henry is succeeding this season is because he's mixing his pitches, throwing a greater number of breaking balls and off-speed pitches, along with his fastball.
"As a former pitcher myself, (that's) something I probably didn't grasp as well as he grasps at his age," Dukate said. "It took me a long time to learn how to pitch, and I think Max is doing a good job of picking it up quickly, learning how to change speeds and learning how to (control) the tempo of the game."
Henry said he throws a curveball, change-up and a "seldomly used" knuckleball with his fastball, which was clocked at 88 MPH against Cazenovia.
He also brings to the mound an imposing frame -- at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Henry is the biggest player on the Bearcats' roster -- and a healthy amount of motivation. Henry was cut from the Latrobe baseball team as a sophomore and played only tennis afterward. He made it to St. Vincent largely thanks to his dominance playing for the Latrobe American Legion team.
"Every time I step on the mound I think about it, but I just use it as motivation to prove people wrong," Henry said.
The lack of high school experience may explain why Henry is still learning some of the nuances of pitching. It also may explain why his coach believes his sophomore pitcher has such a high ceiling.
"We feel very strongly that as he continues to improve with his overall conditioning, he can be in the 90s consistently (with his fastball)," Janosko said. " ... I don't think he's completely reached his potential yet, and he's already got (scouts) looking at him. With continued hard work and continued discipline and understanding, I think Max has as good of a shot as anybody to go to the next level."