Fisch is back.
The chant serenaded Cal Poly fifth-year senior pitcher Steven Fischback when he got out of a two-on, no-out jam with a couple of strikeouts and fly ball in the second inning at Baggett Stadium on Sunday.
The vocal Fischback supporters let it fly again in the fourth when he had his first 1-2-3 inning in a 7-1 victory that completed a three-game sweep of visiting Valparaiso (1-11).
After what has seemed like an eternity, Fisch is back — on the mound and now in the win column — much to the delight of his fans in the stands and in the clubhouse.
“It has felt like a long time, kind of every bit of those two-and-a-half years, I guess two-and-three-quarters years,” Fischback said. “It’s weird, but now that I have a couple starts under my belt, it’s like everything’s kind of back to normal. I expect to pitch every week.”
Shoulder trouble caused the former rising star to miss all of the past two seasons for Cal Poly, which has now won four straight after an 0-6 start. Fischback started two games on the road this season and came in with two no-decisions and a 6.75 ERA.Lasting six innings for the first time since his injury, Sunday was Fischback’s first victory in a Cal Poly uniform since going 6 1⁄3 innings with eight strikeouts in an 8-6 win over UNLV on May 4, 2008.
He’s a different player now. Missing the velocity that made him a fastball-slider power pitcher, Fischback relies on location and ground balls.
Though he did strike out four, he ended the third inning inducing a double play to get out of trouble after giving up the Crusaders’ only run, then retired the next nine batters, five via grounders.
“My changeup is now my out pitch,” Fischback said. “It’s not a swing-and-miss pitch, so the mindset’s a little different. I don’t have the confidence or that feeling on a 2-2 count that I’m going to throw a fastball by someone, but I do feel like I can place them on the outside corner and get a ground ball. It’s more pitching.”
Fischback’s return was almost a universal rally cry when fellow players discussed the potential of this year’s team in the preseason. Regardless of how he gets the outs, the Mustangs truly believed having him out there was going to be one of the keys to turning things around after a 23-32 season.
“If you have a dominant starter like that, it keeps you in the ballgame,” said senior designated hitter D.J. Gentile, who was 2 for 4 with an RBI on Sunday and is one of three players from Fischback’s recruiting class left on the team. “Everyone feels it, and everyone gets that attitude that he brings to the table.
“When he’s on the mound, you have confidence within the dugout and confidence on the field that we’re going to win this game.”
Before he got hurt, Fischback’s fastball was topping out at 94 mph. Coupled with a hard-breaking slider, a curveball and changeup, scouts were drooling over his 2.25 ERA and multitude of plus pitches during a summer wood-bat stint in 2008, even though he was coming off a modest year with the Mustangs (5-4, 4.55 ERA).
Being named top prospect of the Alaskan Baseball League by the publication Baseball America, a well-respected authority, instantly placed Fischback on every list of college players to watch for in 2009.
But just as quickly as he’d gained a measure of notoriety, Fischback fell right back out of the spotlight. While playing catch with a buddy back home before the college season, he felt a pain in his shoulder that was diagnosed months later as a torn labrum, a severing of the cartilage that helps stabilize the shoulder joint.
He missed all of the 2009 season, and when he tried to come back after surgery in 2010, his velocity was so poor, Fischback wondered if he would ever be able to pitch effectively again.
“When I came back, everything felt really tight,” Fischback said. “I used to throw hard not because I’m strong or anything. I was flexible. I had a loose shoulder. When I came back, everything was tight, and it just took forever to get any kind of motion back.”
He spent the time off the mound focusing on the things he could do, renewing his religious faith, holding the radar gun, working out as fervently as possible and encouraging teammates.
Fischback’s supportive attitude is another reason teammates can’t wait for him to excel. They’re eager to return the favor.
“He’s gone through so much in the last few years,” said Cal Poly closer Jeff Johnson, who recorded the last four outs and struck out the side in the ninth against Valparaiso to lower his season ERA to 1.93, “but he kept on working and kept on working hard. It’s nice to see him out there.
“When I came in here two years ago as a freshman, he definitely took me under his wing and helped me out a lot. That could be why I am where I am today because of guys like him, older guys who make you feel comfortable.”
Fifth-year senior Frankie Reed, a left-hander who missed two years of his own after Tommy John surgery, lowered his ERA to 0.96 with 1 2/3 innings of hitless ball, and with that kind of strength and depth in the Cal Poly bullpen, Mustangs head coach Larry Lee said he doesn’t need much more than a solid four or five innings from Fischback on Sundays.
The bigger concern for Lee at the moment is on offense. Though Cal Poly did get a two-run single by Evan Busby in the seventh, the Mustangs largely benefited from five Valparaiso errors and four unearned runs.
Hitting and continuing to win will be the team’s focus going into next weekend’s four-game series with visiting Loyola Marymount and during the streak of 11 of 12 games at home the rest of this month.
“Going into the week, we were six games under .500,” Lee said. “Now we’re two games under .500, and that was one of my comments: Use the month of March to gradually get back to .500. Try to use being at home to get into a routine.”
SOFTBALLCal Poly 2, San Diego State 1; Baylor 10, Cal Poly 2; UCLA 4, Cal Poly 0 (Saturday)
The Mustangs (3-17) got all of their offense from three Anna Cahn home runs to earn a split at the Campbell/Cartier Classic on Sunday.
Cahn, 3 for 5 on the day, delivered the game-winning two-run shot in the fifth inning against the host Aztecs after two solo home runs accounted for both Cal Poly runs against the Bears in the early game.
Trista Thomas pitched a two-hitter against San Diego State, improving her season record to 1-1.
In Saturday night’s late game, UCLA scored three runs in the first three innings and that was enough for starter Jessica Hall.
Hall tossed a two-hitter and improved to 10-3.
Cahn took the loss but went the distance and only allowed four hits.
Cal Poly’s showdown with No. 38 UC Irvine was postponed because of slick conditions at Mustang Courts following midday rain.
Mustangs head coach Justin McGrath said the teams will look to reschedule the match for a later date, possibly in April.