How good has Easton Walker been on the mound for the BYU baseball team this season?
First-year pitching coach Michael Bradshaw wouldn’t divulge any of his strategies when it comes to calling pitches for Walker but put it in terms any true gamer could appreciate.
“I jokingly compare it to playing video game baseball,” Bradshaw said. “Whatever I call, he can throw any pitch for a strike.”
Need a fastball over the inside corner? Walker can do that. Need a change-up for a strike with a 3-2 count? He can do that, too. A slider for a strike down 0-2? No problem.
Put Walker on the mound and zeros keep appearing on the scoreboard for the opposition.
The right-handed Walker hasn’t surrendered an earned run in 31.2 innings in 2019. Moved into the No. 2 spot in the pitching rotation two weeks ago, Walker went 2-0 against Portland and Saint Mary’s. In 12 innings, he gave up just four hits and no runs while notching eight strikeouts.
Walker said the streak is in the back of his mind but he’s not focused on it.
“It’s all part of the stats that come with performance,” Walker said. “It shows all the hard work I’ve been putting in to get to where I’m at. I’m grateful for my defense that supports and backs me up. I focus on the task, not the outcome. I focus on every single pitch and commit to it.”
Walker was 17-1 as a pitcher for Pleasant Grove in 2014 and 2015, leading the Vikings to the 5A state title as a senior. He earned the state’s Mr. Baseball award as well as the Daily Herald Valley Player of the Year.
As a freshman at BYU in 2016, Walker made 21 appearances in relief with one start, recording a 3.51 earned run average and striking out 23 in 33.1 innings. He served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to Cusco, Peru, playing catch with a baseball just twice during his two-year service. He said he appreciated the mental and physical break from competitive sports and the focus on helping others.
When he returned he began the process of getting his arm into shape. Bradshaw helped him develop a long-toss throwing program to make that happen.
“I worked hard during the first couple of months and felt I was bullpen-ready in the fall,” Walker said. “From there it was just building my pitch count. It’s been a grind but I think it’s been a lot better than I expected.”
Bradshaw is not that far removed from his own college pitching career, having finished up at Nevada in 2014. He came to BYU from Arizona, where he was assistant director of operations. The Cougar pitching staff has been phenomenal so far, posting a 3.19 ERA through the first 27 games.
No. 1 starter Jordan Wood is 4-0 in seven starts with a 2.25 ERA. Freshman Reid McLaughlin is 4-0 and has a 1.67 ERA out of the bullpen. Walker has allowed only two unearned runs and opponents are hitting just .139 against him.
“Easton was pitching too good not to have that dude be a starter,” Bradshaw said. “One of his strengths is his mentality. Nothing bothers him. He’s going to come at you and he’s not afraid of anything. Ultimately his biggest strength is his ability to throw strikes with four pitches. He throws his fastball where he wants it and his other three pitches he can throw for strikes anytime. Whatever it takes to get a hitter out, he can execute those pitches.”
The Cougars were on an eight-game winning streak before losing at Utah 8-6 on Tuesday. BYU went 7-2 at home in West Coast Conference play and takes to the road at San Diego for a three-game set beginning Thursday.
The Cougars 21-6 record ties for the second-best program start through 27 games and they were ranked No. 24 by Collegiate Baseball at the beginning of the week.
“It’s a great achievement for us as a team,” Walker said. “We still have a lot to improve but it’s good for people to see the ranking because of the hard work we’ve put in. The numbers are for fans to notice, but we don’t talk about it much.”
At some point, the streak of not allowing an earned run will end for Walker and his ERA of 0.00 will change to a crooked number. He’s more concerned about staying in the moment.
“Knowing my stuff is good and trusting in it has been key,” he said. “I always told my dad, I could be the best pitcher in the world and guys will still get hits off me. Right now things are going my way. Our defense is making great plays but when somebody scores on you, it’s all part of the game. I’m trying not to focus on the number. I’m just trying to focus on my next pitch.”