Tahlequah Daily Press

May 31, 2013

Arms a plenty

OSU pitchers return to lead Cowboys to NCAA tournament.


— During Monday’s NCAA Division I Baseball Championship selection show, an ESPNU analyst pegged the Louisville Regional — in which Oklahoma State University will be the three seed and open against Miami (Fla.) — as the best regional for pitching.

When talking about the talented arms, the analyst referenced OSU’s top two starters — Friday night starter Jason Hursh and Saturday lefty Tyler Nurdin. What’s most impressive of the weekend pitchers for the Cowboys isn’t necessarily the numbers — Nurdin with a starter-best 1.83 earned run average with a 4-3 record and Hursh leading the Cowboys in strikeouts (84) and innings pitched (102).

What might be the most impressive is the fact that they, along with Sunday starter Mark Robinette, are even pitching this year.

All three of OSU’s weekend starters didn’t throw a single pitch a year ago, instead sitting out the 2012 campaign due to a variety of surgeries.

“Me and Jason always talked about it last year, joked about how we were going to come back stronger than we were before we got hurt,” said Nurdin, who underwent shoulder surgery. “We’re both from the DFW area and I’ve known Jason a long time and he’s a great pitcher. We worked really hard for what we have this year.”

The biggest boost to the rotation starts with the Friday night starter. After losing Andrew Heaney, the 2012 Big 12 Conference Pitcher of the Year and a first-round draft pick by the Miami Marlins, Hursh has given OSU that solid starter to open the weekend.

After pitching in 10 games as a freshman, Hursh underwent Tommy John surgery and redshirted last season. A sixth round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school, Hursh holds a 2.65 ERA with a 6-4 record — most wins of any Cowboy starter — and has seen personal growth not just from one year to the next, but within this season.

The redshirt sophomore from Carrollton, Texas, hit a rough patch in April. Starting with a loss to Texas in late March, Hursh lost three straight starts. The next two being to Kansas and Texas Christian University, which led to OSU’s only series losses in conference play.

At the time, Hursh mentioned his troubles were more mental than physical. And that mental toughness has been tested since, most recently against TCU in the Big 12 championship, and he has proven that those mental woes are behind him.

“Jason is a smart kid and sometimes if you are too smart, you can think too much and I think that’s been part of his process. Instead of taking one or two things and keeping it simple, he’ll add three or four things and can make it complicated,” said first-year pitching coach Rob Walton, who pitched at Oklahoma State in the ‘80s. “But that’s part of experience. I’ve done it, every guy who’s ever pitched in the big leagues has done it. ... I think he’s grown up in those aspects, though, and is just trying to keep things simple and not be overly aggressive to the target.”

Oklahoma State’s Saturday starter has one of the best earned run averages in the conference, making him even more dangerous being a lefty. Unfortunately, Nurdin hasn’t been given the most run support and so his 1.83 ERA and .233 batting average against have led him to just a 4-3 record.

“Tyler has been unbelievably consistent. His last start he lost (against Kansas), but I thought he pitched like a big leaguer,” Walton said. “He really pitched great. ... Tyler’s been pitching inside like a big leaguer. He throws fastballs in on guys like big leaguers do every night. It takes some trust and takes some toughness to keep driving balls in there.”

The Sunday starter may not have the similar statistical numbers as Hursh and Nurdin, but Robinette has done one thing for OSU — win. Despite a 3.92 ERA and a .236 batting average against, Robinette has a 5-1 record on the back end of the weekend rotation, where he has been called upon several times this year to get the win so OSU could claim the series.

“It’s been huge. We’re not in this position without all three of these guys,” first-year coach Josh Holliday said. “They’ve all regained form and competed at a very high level. I give them credit for how hard they’ve worked to get healthy and how hard they’ve worked with Rob to re-establish themselves as pitchers.”