The Jacksonville State junior enters a game in the closing innings and stares down opposing batters like major leaguer Jonathan Papelbon. He doesn’t care how prickly the situation. In fact, the pricklier the better.
Most of the time, the hitter flinches first and winds up dragging his bat back to the dugout, another victim of the bulldog’s bite.
“He’s an adrenaline junkie,” Jacksonville State baseball coach Jim Case said. “He loves to compete at everything he does.
“He thinks he’s our best second baseman. He probably thinks he’s our best right fielder. That’s just the mentality he has.”
Fortunately, the Gamecocks only need Stout to be their best closer, and he is.
A year ago, the 5-foot-9 right-hander added his uniqueness to the Gamecocks’ long run of quality closers under Case. He set the JSU single-season saves record with 17 -- the second most in Ohio Valley Conference history -- and was virtually untouchable in league play. He had a school Division I record 1.42 earned run average in 31 2/3 innings. After giving up three runs in one inning against Samford in mid-March, he buckled down and gave up only one earned run in his last 23 appearances.
Opposing batters hit .213 against him, but were only .049 in league play.
Earlier this week he was recognized as the OVC Preseason Pitcher of the Year -- one of three JSU players on the preseason All-OVC team -- and Tuesday was among 50 players placed on the National Stopper of the Year watch list.
“It’s going to be a fun year,” Stout said. “I’ve got a good team behind me. My job is a small fraction of the actual game. I give all the credit to the guys behind him.”
It may be small, but nonetheless critical, and he has proven time and again capable of holding up his end. He won or saved 20 of the Gamecocks’ 32 victories last season and 14 of their 22 league wins.
Among the national leaders, only Cal State Fullerton’s Michael Lorenzen had more saves in fewer innings (19 in 22 2/3).
This year the expectations are higher.
Stout’s biggest goal is to avoid giving teams extra outs. He would like to limit his walks -- he had 10 last year -- and give up no more than five earned runs.
The target number for saves is open. While he’d like as many opportunities as a year ago, he’d be just as happy with fewer saves if it means knowing the Gamecocks had their victory well in hand before calling on him to slam the door.
“If I can come in 20 save situations, I hope to save all 20 of them,” Stout said. “Seventeen is a good mark to shoot for, (but) if I had 16 this year it’d still be an accomplishment as long as the walks were down, and the reason it was 16 is I didn’t have enough chances because we were winning.”
Stout didn’t sit still after his big season last spring. He played in two New England summer leagues where he worked on, among other things, developing a fourth pitch.
He already was effective with the usual pitcher’s complement of fastball, curve and changeup, but this year he’s rediscovering a splitter he used to throw in high school but gave up after developing arm trouble early in his JSU career.
It’s not that he has become worried opposing hitters have figured out his pitches. It just gives him another option.
“A lot of things you ask a closer to do he already does,” Case said. “All we’re trying to do is give him an opportunity to put another bullet in his gun … that we felt could make him a little more complete.
“When you look at closers, they don’t really have time to use a whole lot of pitches, but if you have them and can throw them for strikes right off the bat, it adds a whole new dimension. It’s not like he’s going to throw a 98-mph fastball and see what happens. He literally pitches.”
Stout said he wasn’t sure how much he would throw the new pitch this year. One thing you can be assured, however, is he’ll be confident in it when he does.
“I’m not trying to fix anything. It’s just something you fiddle around with,” he said. “If it’s moving unlike other pitches you’re throwing and you can throw it in the bottom of the zone, you’re going to be successful, and that’s what we’re trying to get at -- maximum results.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.