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Dalton's experiment a success

| Thursday, May 9, 2002

It was an experiment gone right.

At least that was the case for Gateway grad Matt Dalton, when he decided to try something different with his pitching delivery.

"Last year, I was messing around in the bullpen and I threw a couple of side-arm pitches," said Dalton, who was a sophomore at Virginia Tech at the time. "The coach saw it, and we decided to work on it."

The rest is history.

Since his switch from overhand to a submarine-type delivery, Dalton has played a major role for the Hokies. He is now the primary closer for Virginia Tech (26-21, 14-6), which is at the top of the Big East Conference heading into its game against Richmond today.

"After his first year, I was wondering how he was going to be able to contribute," coach Chuck Hartman said. "But after the fall, I thought he was going to be a plus for us this season. He jumped out of the woodwork.

"He's having an unbelievable year."

Dalton, who transferred to Virginia Tech from Division III Case Western after three semesters at the Cleveland, Ohio, school, saw limited action in his first season in Blacksburg, Va. He threw 7.1 innings and had a 9.82 ERA, with only three strikeouts.

"I came down here, and the guys were amazing," said Dalton, who is now in his junior season. "They were definitely better hitters than what I had seen before. It takes a little extra to play down here. It takes a lot more to get guys out. A lot of guys won't chase. It's not easy to strike batters out.

"The level of competition is extremely high."

But since his pitching delivery is extremely low, Dalton is getting the best of most batters, who aren't used to a submarine-type pitcher.

Going into the Richmond game, Dalton is 2-2 with a 3.18 ERA, which is good enough for second on the team. He has seven saves and is leading the conference in appearances with 22. Opposing batters have a .190 batting average against him, and he hasn't given up any extra-base hits.

"I never would have anticipated this this year," said Dalton, who is a civil engineering major. "It's been a complete 180. It's definitely a big change from last year."

As with any change, there were positives and negatives with Dalton's switch to the submarine delivery. As far as negatives go, the righty had to work on his control and lost some velocity on his fastball, which now moves in the mid 80s.

Besides results, the positives of the new delivery have been less fatigue on his arm and legs, as well as better movement on his pitches.

"It's taken awhile to adjust," said Dalton, who also throws a slider and change up. "I really haven't had any arm problems this year, though. I really don't ice it."

Dalton, who was a starting pitcher throughout most of his career, has also had to develop into a closing pitcher.

"It took a little bit of getting adjusted to," Dalton said. "Now, it's a different situation. I don't start thinking about the game until about the seventh inning. I put on my spikes and try to prepare myself mentally.

"You just have to go in and shut them down as best as you can. There's a lot more pressure on you. The starter's job is to keep the team in the game. When you're trying to get the save, one bad pitch can cost you the game."

The thing that has helped Dalton acquire the closer's mentality, is the confidence of his coach.

"Poise under pressure is his biggest strength," Hartman said. "He gets a lot of ground balls, and he's a great competitor. Him being in that role is great.

"It doesn't make any difference who were playing. If were up one, he's our go-to guy."

He might be on track to follow another closer that came out of Virginia Tech. A guy named Mike Williams.

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