Anyone who has played baseball long enough remembers the first time they saw a good curveball.
The ball is headed right at you, causing you to buckle or back off the plate, thinking you’re going to get beaned, only for the ball to curve back over the plate for a strike.
Pitchers, of course, love seeing that. They also love seeing broken bats.
If broken bats were runs, the Duluth Huskies would have won their Northwoods League season opener Monday, but that’s not the case as the Waterloo Bucks used one big inning to down the Huskies 5-0 before 849 at Wade Stadium.
Bucks coach Ryan Gaynor credited his pitchers, Harrison Cook, Eli Emerson and Cameron Landry for shutting down the Huskies. They combined to hold the Huskies to five hits and had 10 strikeouts, with Landry striking out the side in the ninth.
“Those guys all did a great job,” Gaynor said. “Their big thing was they got ahead in the count, with first pitch strikes. That’s the name of the game when it comes to pitching.”
And that is where Duluth struggled for one inning as Waterloo scored all five runs in the fifth inning after the Huskies had pulled starter Ben Pedersen.
“Like I told our pitching staff, when you get eight zeros out of nine innings, chances are you’re going to win,” Huskies manager Marcus Pointer said. “We had one inning that slipped away from us. If you limit that to one run, that puts a lot of pressure on the other team.
“Ben did pretty much what we expected out of him. He stayed ahead in the count, and that makes life easier. We all saw what happened in that one inning. We were pitching from behind, and that’s all it takes.”
Pedersen was stellar in his Huskies’ debut, allowing two hits and no runs in four innings, with five strikeouts and no walks. The Duluth Marshall graduate is used to playing at Wade Stadium from his high school days but had never played before a crowd like that.
“I felt great. It felt really good to get back out here,” Pedersen said. “We had a great crowd tonight, and it was fun to pitch in front of them. It was a lot of fun.”
That crowd included Pedersen’s parents, Bill and Cari.
One stat that will not show up in the box score were the two broken bats Pedersen induced. The 6-foot-6 right-hander can throw into the 90-95 mph range.
“People are used to swinging metal, and they can handle that inside pitch a lot better,” Pedersen said. “The wood bat will break on you, and when you see that, it’s a nice little reassurance. It’s fun for me. I’ll take it.”
Pedersen struggled earlier this spring for the University of Missouri but had his best collegiate performance in his last outing as he didn’t allow a run in 4 2/3 innings May 15 at Mississippi State. Monday, Pedersen appeared to be picking up right where he left off.
“Let’s just keep it going,” Pedersen said. “I’m looking forward to a fun summer.”
Pedersen threw 55 pitches. He was asked how many were for strikes.
“A lot,” Pedersen said, laughing.
After being used in spot duty for Mizzou, the Huskies aren’t going to overdo it with Pedersen. He was asked if he wanted to go another inning.
“Of course,” he said.
But he’s also realistic. Plus, in a developmental league like the NWL, there are plenty of pitchers to go around, plenty of guys looking to gain experience on the mound. Pedersen said his next start likely will be in six or seven days, depending on the schedule.
“We’re early in the season, so we’re monitoring pitch counts pretty closely. We’ve got a lot of talented arms on our staff, so there is no reason to push a pitcher,” Pedersen said. “I’m happy with the outing I had. I was capped at 45 pitches, and they let me go 55, so I’ll take it. I felt really good. I got an extra inning.”
Will McEntire, a 6-foot-4 right-hander from Arkansas, will start on the mound at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday for the Huskies while Curren Larson of Saddleback College goes for the Bucks. McEntire will be throwing to fellow Razorback Cason Tollett, something coach Pointer said should be an obvious connection.
“I’m not worried about our guys,” Pointer said. “Our guys will be ready to go tomorrow. They just have to come back and compete and not press too much. Just play the game, play competitively and play hard, and we’ll be alright.”