“Last year we redshirted him and every week he would text me, ‘Coach, I’m ready to go,’” JSU coach Jim Case said. “Of course, we had made the decision to redshirt him, but I don’t think a week went by when he didn’t send me a text, ‘Hey, I’m ready if you want me. I’m ready to go.’”
The redshirt freshman has proven to be more than ready. Going into this weekend’s conference series at Morehead State (14-11, 2-1), the young right-hander is 3-1 with a team-best 2.45 ERA.
Opponents are hitting a mere .182 against him, fourth-best in the Ohio Valley Conference among pitchers with at least 15 innings this season. He’s been particularly nasty against right-handed hitters, who are batting only .164 against him.
“Travis has been outstanding,” Case said. “He’s a competitor, that’s what he is. That’s the No. 1 trait he has; he loves to compete.
“He’s been fantastic at coming in and throwing some strikes and getting after people and making them earn everything that they get. He’s been really, really good. … A lot of being successful is the belief you can be successful. He doesn’t struggle for confidence.”
He’d like to be a starter at some point in his career and Case wouldn’t have any problem extending him because he goes right at hitters keeping his pitch count down, but for now he’s excelling in the role of middle reliever, forming a nice right-handed complement to lefties Cody Ponder and Tanner Freshour.
Actually, Freshour was Stout before Stout, coming into games at just the right time. Every time he entered, it seems, the Gamecocks’ bats got hot and took control of the game.
All of Freshour’s 14 career JSU wins have come among his 83 relief appearances. He’s made only two career starts at JSU and hadn’t started a game since April 4, 2009. He was 3-2 with a 3.52 ERA in 23 relief appearances last year, 6-1 in 29 relief appearances in 2010.
“If you look at it and say you’ve got (Stout) to get out right-handers and we’ve got Ponder and Freshour and Hornsby to close, there’s a pretty good little deal going on right there,” Case said. “We need to add to that, but there’s a pretty good deal going on right there where we’re fairly confident, and Travis has really stepped up and grabbed hold of that role.
“Going into the year we didn’t know who was going to be that guy, but he has been that guy.”
It was a role he was put in his first game and he’s there ever since. He lost his first college decision at Samford, but has beaten LIU Brooklyn and Northwestern on the team’s Florida trip and Eastern Kentucky in the Gamecocks’ OVC opener. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last five appearances (eight innings).
“It was very nerve wracking my very first time out (one shutout inning in the home opener), seriously, but after that first time I hadn’t had any kind of jitters or nervousness at all,” Stout said. “It’s giong well.”
The starting rotation for JSU (8-16, 2-1) is expected to be the same as last weekend at Eastern Kentucky —Aaron Elias (0-3, 4.45), Daniel Watts (2-3, 6.61) and Hunter Rivers (0-3, 5.09). The Eagles will counter with Aaron Goe (2-3, 5.45), Noah Smallwood (1-0, 6.55) and Blake Smith (2-0, 6.75).
The series also will feature two of the top closers in college baseball. Morehead closer Matt Duncan (1-0, 0.53) leads the OVC with seven saves. JSU’s Hornsby has five saves and a 3.18 ERA in 11 appearances; he hasn’t allowed a run in his last six appearances.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.