BOGACZYK: Freshman Shapiro Making big Pitch for Herd
The Word on the Herd-Apr. 21, 2016
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When Joshua Shapiro goes to the mound for Marshall, he brings his two- and four-seam fastballs, a circle change and a knuckle-curve.
The true freshman left-hander also has what you could call “beyond his years, between the ears.”
“I think the biggest thing with Josh is his pitchability,” Thundering Herd Coach Jeff Waggoner said. “He’s really talented on the mound and has good stuff, but Joshua is beyond his years as far as pitchability.
“He knows how to set up hitters; he knows how to read scouting reports. He’ll listen to his coaches and he knows when to pitch to contact. Those are the things that separate him from other young guys who are just throwers.”
Shapiro (pronounced shuh-PEER-oh) got his first collegiate victory last Sunday when the Herd needed it most. Facing a series sweep in Beckley by 16th-ranked Florida Atlantic, Shapiro made his first weekend start very special with seven shutout innings, allowing only four hits as Marshall won 7-2.
That came 12 days after an Appalachian Power Park start against West Virginia, where the Columbus, Ohio, lefty held the Mountaineers hitless over 5 2/3 innings. Six days prior, he’d been raked for 10 earned runs and 10 hits in 5 2/3 at Morehead State.
What followed Morehead State impressed Waggoner and Herd pitching coach Josh Newman … and now the college rookie --- the Conference USA Pitcher of the Week -- is in the weekend rotation as the Herd (19-15, 8-7) goes to Charlotte (16-22, 6-9) for a three-game C-USA series starting Friday.
“The thing I loved when I saw him while recruiting him was he was a guy where the velocity wasn’t there, but I saw a guy who competed,” Newman said. “He’s left-handed, 83-86 (mph) in high school, but what I saw was a guy way beyond his years.
“He never was rattled; he competed and he was just calm. And you don’t see a lot of that in high school. You don’t see a lot of kids like that. It’s a roller coaster a lot of the time. When they’re throwing well, they’re good. When things go bad, it really shows on the mound.”
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Shapiro said a lot of what often ails young pitchers was coached out of him at an early age by his father, Mick, a former University of Cincinnati catcher (1985), and Ron Golden, a respected and longtime Columbus-area baseball instructor and former college and high school coach.
“My dad and Ron did a lot in mentally developing me, in my mechanics, making sure everything is where I need to be to maximize my talent,” Shapiro said. “Here, I’ve gotten a lot of support from the coaches and players early. They’ve never given up on me, and having them by my side helps because once they lose faith, then it’s hard to have faith in yourself. My family, too. I have a really good support group.”
Shapiro doesn’t only take his maturity to the hill. He’s an accounting major in the MU Honors College, which “fosters academic excellence in a community of learners whose undergraduate education is enhanced through innovative teaching and learning,” according to the college’s mission statement.
Shapiro brought 18 advanced placement credits with him from Bexley High School. He had a 4.0 GPA in his first Marshall semester, and this term he’s enrolled in all 200- and 300-level courses.
“I do think I came in here with a different mindset,” Shapiro replied when asked whether he thought he was mature above his 18 years. “I wanted to come here and I wanted to compete for a spot right away. The makeup that I have, it really started in high school when I was a freshman. Ron Golden really helped me develop my mental side. He put me through some tough situations that really helped me mature as a pitcher.”
Waggoner and Newman saw that right away in “fall ball.”
“He was really good, and he was ready to come in and win a job, and that’s where it starts,” Waggoner said. “He was very competitive, one of our best pitchers. He had a really good outing against WVU in the fall, and then he continued to work extremely hard over the winter break. It helps that he’s been and still is surrounded by a lot of people who know the game really well and they’ll push his limits to how good he can be.”
Last season at Bexley, Shapiro was the Mid-State Conference Player of the Year. He went 6-0 with a 0.51 ERA, 89 strikeouts and 15 walks in 41 innings. He also hit .384 with 10 doubles and 26 RBI. With the Herd, he’s 1-2 with a 5.12 ERA in 12 appearances (6 starts). But if you subtract that disastrous Morehead State afternoon, his ERA is a solid 3.27.
What changed for him?
“Early in the season he struggled – he was up in the zone a bit – and he couldn’t really locate his off-speed anytime he wanted,” Waggoner said. “And give credit to Coach Newman for making some adjustments with Joshua’s delivery, and getting him down in the zone and getting a little more extension. It allowed him to get down and to throw the secondary (pitches) anytime. They made that adjustment before the WVU game and the results have been great.”
Shapiro said his last two performances have been rooted in “two main things – keeping the ball low, which I hadn’t been doing, and being able to throw my off-speed for strikes. That’s key. My knuckle-curve is definitely a pitch I like to get ahead with, and getting that in the strike zone is big.
“Keeping the ball down, a lot of it is just staying back. I was kind of rushing so my body was getting ahead of my arm and everything was up in the zone. So, it’s staying back, staying under control, and then driving home was big.”
Shapiro said he chose Marshall for the impact he might have a chance to make if he pitched as he thought possible.
“I had a few other offers, including Cincinnati, where my dad played, but I came on my first visit here and met Coach Newman and just fell in love with it, knew then this was the right place for me.” the left-hander said. “They talked to me before I came in about how they’re building up this program, getting a lot of good talent now – and as you can see, we do – and I wanted to be a part of something special and make a difference in this program.”
Shapiro didn’t get caught up in his first weekend start, or that it was against a nationally ranked team – and the Owls followed by downing top-ranked Miami (Fla.) on Wednesday night.
“I’m a pretty even-keel type of guy,” Shapiro said. “That’s just my personality. Obviously, I was excited for the opportunity, but I knew I just had to go out there and put my team in the best situation I could.
“Honestly, I just went out there and pitched (against FAU). This is something I prepared for this whole year, my whole life, really. I had great support.
“We have a great group of seniors that have really helped me along the way, pitchers, position players, they’d come out there, tell me to relax. Just go pitch your game. I just tried to do that.”
Newman said he never worried about Shapiro’s early numbers
“From Day 1, the thing with our pitchers is we grade the process; we don’t grade the results,” said the Herd pitching coach, a former Major League lefty. “What I mean by the process is every day putting in the work, being the best we can be in between our outings, and on game day, trust in what we have.
“But these upperclassmen – seniors like the Chase Bosters and JD Hammers of the world – they’ve really showed these young kids like Shapiro the ropes of what it means to be successful day-in, day-out. They’ve really set the tone and raised the bar.
“The thing I really loved about (Shapiro), aside from his work ethic, is the type of young man he is – 4.0 student, Honors College classes, challenging, on and on. It’s a dream. He’s a winner, period.”
Shapiro admits, too, that he’s learning on the diamond as well as in those classes like Introduction to Psychology Honors and Microeconomics.
“Personally, I thought I was going to come in here and pitch the way I’ve pitched my whole life, dominating people,” said Shapiro, who turns 19 on May 16. “And obviously, it was a bit of a struggle at the beginning.
“But I think that just helped me learn what I had to do even more, figure it out, really understand how to pitch, and pitch my game at this level. And that’s helped me get where I am right now. I don’t worry about my numbers. I just want to help us win. No matter what happens, any chance I can give our team to win, that’s what I want.”
Waggoner said Shapiro reminds him of a Marshall pitcher of recent vintage who is on the verge of the Major Leagues at Class AAA in the Atlanta Braves’ system.
“The best thing about Josh is he never got down on himself when he was struggling,” Waggoner said. “He has confidence in his ability and wasn’t afraid to pitch in. I made the comparison in the fall, mentally, to Aaron Blair.
“You can tell when a guy has that it factor where he’s not scared of opportunities. He wants the ball in opportunities. He’s got that special it, that thing that makes him great, whatever it is. I don’t exactly know what that’s called, but it’s the thing that makes you great, and Blair had that.
“Joshua’s got a long ways to go, just like our team. It’s one start at a time, and in between starts, too, but we’re really excited about the rest of the season and his future.”