Flourishing as a rookie
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Lessons are part of growth, maturity, and improvement. University of Iowa freshman pitcher Sasha Kuebel understands that, taking aspects of each of his starts—good and bad—to become one of the top freshmen in the Big Ten Conference.
In his third career start, Kuebel was on the mound facing a winless Youngstown State team and was roughed up. Kuebel allowed five runs on eight hits in only two and a third innings. The Hawkeyes ultimately won that game, but Kuebel came away with a better understanding of how to pitch at the collegiate level.
Iowa freshman pitcher Sasha Kuebel has made 11 starts, boasts a perfect 5-0 record, and ranks first among Iowa's starting pitchers in ERA (3.03). Photo courtesy of UI Athletic Communications.
"I learned a lot from that game," says the 6-foot-1, 200-pound lefty. "I didn't keep the ball down in the zone and got punished. In high school, you could blow pitches by people and didn't have to worry about location. In college, you need to focus on keeping the ball down in the zone."
Iowa pitching coach Chris Maliszewski believes Kuebel learned a valuable lesson and has grown since that early-season outing.
"Mentally, he realized he can't take one team lighter than the other," says Maliszewski. "Sasha learned not to take anyone lightly and that it doesn't matter who the hitters are in the college level, you have to pitch the same every game."
Over the course of the season, Kuebel has developed into one of the Big Ten's top freshmen. The St. Louis, Mo., native has made 11 starts, boasts a perfect 5-0 record with six no-decisions, and ranks first among Iowa's starting pitchers in ERA (3.03). He tossed his first career complete game May 5 in Iowa's 7-2 win over Michigan.
"He's extremely competitive; he wants to be the best," Maliszewski says. "His attitude and mentality on game day allows him to be one of the better freshmen pitchers in the league. There isn't a freshman that I've seen that I would rather have than him."
Kuebel is surrounded by upperclassmen pitchers who have assisted in his development.
"I look at Jarred [Hippen, a four-year starter] a lot because he and I are similar pitchers since we both are lefties and throw a lot of off speed stuff," says Kuebel. "He has helped me out a lot with pitches and pitch selection, and when to throw it and location."
Former Hawkeye pitcher and Hawkeye Radio Network analyst Jeff Pacha has seen Kuebel pitch a couple times this season and is impressed with how quickly he has adapted to the college game.
"He's one of the better pitchers I've seen transition from high school to college," says Pacha. "He has a lot of talent."
When it comes to pitches in his arsenal, Kuebel says that his two-seam fastball has been the most effective. He also has a change-up and transitioned from a curveball last fall to a slider during the spring.
"I've been working on the slider," says Kuebel. "It's a little sharper with a tighter spin. I've been able to have more success with that than the curveball. Also, my change-up is good because it slides away from the right-handed batters, and I've been able to get batters off balance with those."
When it is his turn to take the mound, his main goal is to give his team the best chance to win.
"I love that the coaches have confidence in me, and I get the OK from the coaches to go out there and compete every weekend," Kuebel says. "I'm thankful to have been given this opportunity and hopeful that I'm able to sustain my success."
Maliszewski has been impressed with Kuebel's development and likes where he is at this point in his rookie campaign.
"Sasha is where we thought he would be at this point in his college career because of his ability to throw strikes as much as he does," says the fourth-year pitching coach. "With his movement and command, he always gives us a chance to win.
"He has a chance to go down as one of the better pitchers we've had here as long as he continues to work hard. He's a mature kid for his age."