Although there are still plenty of games left to play, it is clear that Utah Baseball (13-20, 8-4 Pac-12) is in the midst of a breakout season. From inauspicious beginnings as the conference’s last-place finisher in 2015, the Utes have strung together eight impressive wins and three series wins in-conference to gain a hold of the No. 1 spot in the Pac-12 standings.
There are several factors behind the Utes’ success: a knack for late-game comebacks that have seen them victorious in more than a few close decisions this season, and a solid pitching staff that has largely done an exceptional job of keeping games within reach.
Among the crew of talented players who take the mound week after week, one Ute has distinguished himself as a driving force in several of the team’s big wins this year: right-handed pitcher Jayson Rose.
Doling out a conference-leading 67 strikeouts, with a team-leading 2.48 ERA over 61.2 innings pitched, five wins and a one-hit shutout against UC Riverside last weekend are just a few of the reasons why Rose has found himself one of the team’s go-to’s on the mound, a position that you would think would put a lot of pressure on the sophomore.
“Not really,” Rose said. “Every Friday, I just have to go out there, throw my game and I should be fine.”
Humble words from the soft-spoken standout of the Utah bullpen, but with the kind of year Rose has been having, he can afford to let the numbers do the talking.
His string of solid performances this season has been built upon a foundation laid during an impressive freshman season, in which Rose was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection and led the team with a 3.54 ERA, but Rose has really found success after several significant improvements in his pitching repertoire last year.
“I think fastball command has been one major one. I’ve always had my change-up but my curveball has also gone a long way this year and it’s really helped me,” Rose said.
This increased versatility was one of the reasons Rose was promoted from occasional starter last season to the team’s primary pitcher in Fridays’ series openers, an important role that head coach Bill Kinneberg says Rose has played perfectly.
“[Rose] has been invaluable for us all year long,” Kinneberg said. “Each Friday we’ve been in the game and have had the chance to win, and three out of the four Friday’s in this conference we have won. That sets a tone, and he’s done it and he’s as good as there is.”
In spite of the success he’s had this season and despite being one of the conference’s statistical leaders, Rose doesn’t see himself as leader.
“I think I’m just one of the dudes,” Rose said. “We have bigger ones like Nolan Stouder, who is one of our main leaders on the pitching staff.”
Kinneberg believes Rose is a leader in his own way and that his strong performances, dependence, work ethic and attitude make him someone the team can look up to.
“He works extremely hard. He’s not a very vocal kid, but he leads by example,” Kinneberg said. “Maybe his best tangible part to him is his competitiveness. He’s a fierce competitor. Along with his great stuff, that equals really good Fridays. We’re fortunate to have him and feel pretty comfortable when he’s out there.”
Rose and the team will likely face one of their toughest challenges this Friday when the Utes host No. 12 Oregon State. The Beavers bested the Utes 10-2 in their last meeting, and Utah hasn’t taken down the defending conference champions since an extra-innings thriller back in 2012.