Feb. 21, 2013
By Brendan Flynn, UConn Baseball SID
In his fourth and final season at Connecticut, Stephen Catalina toed the rubber in a game for just the 20th time in his career. The 6-foot-3 righty from Wolcott has missed significant time due to an elbow injury over the last two seasons and will be spending his senior year searching for a role in the bullpen.
During the 2011 season, which the UConn baseball team won the BIG EAST Regular Season Championship and won the Clemson Regional, Catalina was shut down after nine relief appearances and 10 innings pitched for Tommy John surgery. The surgery occurred on May 19, 2011 and was performed by Dr. Michael Joyce.
Catalina made one appearance in a brief return in 2012 and was tagged for three runs on two hits and a walk in just one inning against Rutgers on April 21.
“I rushed back from surgery [in 2012] because I wanted to get back with the guys, battle with the guys and try to make the postseason and win,” said Catalina. “I rushed back a little quick; 10 months. I tried to do what my roommate Scott Oberg did. It worked for him. He threw well, but I was mid-80s, I didn’t have any feel for my off-speed stuff and now this year I’ve developed it all back.”
In the final game of the Huskies’ opening weekend in Florida, Catalina was called out of the bullpen to start the seventh inning with Connecticut down, 4-3. He threw a pair of zeros on the scoreboard, struck out two batters and allowed just one hit, while throwing 26 pitches in two innings of work.
“[Pitching] felt great. It’s the first time I actually felt 100% healthy, besides the summer [when] I threw really well. It was the first time I felt 100% on the mound. My [velocity] is getting back up there since TJ, it’s [been] about 18-19 months. It was a long grueling process, but it’s getting there. It’s the best I’ve felt pitching in my whole life. I’m excited for this year now.”
Over the summer, Catalina pitched for the Danbury Westerners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. He made eight total appearances, including six starts. Catalina owned a 3.16 earned run average in 37 innings pitched and struck out 27 batters, while walking just 11.
“I got to start [for Danbury]; get the feel back for pitching, and develop a routine. That was the biggest thing was getting into a routine. You’re pitching one day and the next day you’re off [then] you have long-toss, bullpen, short-day and then you’re back on the mound again. You know what you’re doing and your arm trains to be a starter and that really helped me get my velocity back, the feel for my breaking stuff, [pitching with] runners on, handling bunts; all that king of stuff.”
Coming into the season, Connecticut returned 368.2 or 71% of its innings pitched from 2012. The biggest departures were ace righty David Fischer and Oberg, the team’s closer.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that have been here for a while; [Will] Jolin, [Dan] Feehan, Pat [Butler], Ryan [Moore]. We waited in the wings of guys like [Kevin] Vance and Oberg; watching those guys pitch. Now we’re ready to show that we can get it done here. You saw that in the first weekend. Everybody throws hard, good breaking stuff. They come at you; we’re not going to walk guys. We’re real excited about the bullpen.”
Despite the return of a large group of arms that have thrown a lot of innings over their UConn careers, specific roles have been up for grabs since fall ball. Moore figures to take over as the closer in replace of Oberg. He started 32 games in right field last year and pitched just eight innings, but spent his entire summer with the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod Baseball League as a pitcher. Feehan and Jolin bring experience to the late innings, but beyond that innings are still available to be earned by veterans and inexperienced pitchers, alike.
“I’m looking to get innings. I would love to start if we need guys; long relief, back end of the bullpen; whatever really is available. Coming in [to the season] everyone has kind of got their roles defined. Whatever opens up, I’m willing to except and pitch and thrive in.
“Coach [Josh MacDonald] does a great job here. He calls it the ‘ladder’. [We know] who is in the top of the rung and everybody is battling for the next spots. Everybody wants to get to the top of the ladder. He calls it a ‘world heavyweight fight’. The champion has got the belt. Who’s the number one contender and who’s number two? We treat it like that and so one guy pitches and you want to out due him. There’s a little competition within each other, but obviously we’re still competing against the other team, but everyone wants to get that number one spot. We’re all gunning for each other and it works; everybody starts throwing well."
In the season’s opening weekend, the UConn bullpen allowed just four runs, while tossing 12-consecutive scoreless innings and shutout the opposition in 15 of the last 16 innings pitched. Catalina has now pitched 20 games in his career and struck out 18 batters in 23 innings pitched.
The Huskies are in action this weekend at the Wawa’s Weekend Classis, hosted by Central Florida. UConn faces future BIG EAST opponent UCF in the weekend opener at 7:00 pm on Friday.