The raw numbers for junior pitcher Jake Walters look good through his first six starts this season. He’s 4-2 with a 2.14 ERA, both of which lead the Crimson Tide’s weekend rotation. He also has a team-high 33 2/3 innings and a team-high 33 strikeouts.
But there’s still a little more he can do.
“I want him to continue to try to pitch to more contact,” University of Alabama head coach Greg Goff said. “Our bullpen is completely different from last year’s bullpen and that team. I think that’s one of the biggest differences. We need Jake to go deeper into the game, especially on Friday nights.”
Alabama’s top two relievers from last season, Thomas Burrows and Matt Foster, have both moved on to professional baseball. Walters has also moved up to take over the Friday night role in the last three weeks. That makes him Alabama’s No. 1 starter, and means he sets the tone for the bullpen based on his performances.
He’s gone 2-1 in the last three weeks on Friday nights, but needed 108 pitches to go 5 1/3 innings last weekend against South Carolina. He used 125 pitches to throw five innings against Missouri. He’s touching the ceiling of his pitch count with three or four innings remaining. That forces Goff to use relief for a good chunk of the game, sometimes taking an arm out of the bullpen for later in the weekend.
“I’ve put myself in holes the last couple of weeks with walks, putting guys on, somehow finding a way to get out of it,” Walters said. “But it’ll make it that much easier on our bullpen and the rest of our team if I attack the zone more and put more balls in play.”
He also leads the team with 18 walks. He had eight against Missouri and six against South Carolina.
Walters said he wants to be more consistent on his two-strike pitches. Instead of working around the edges of the strike zone, he can be more deliberate and induce more contact. Goff likes what he’s seen from Walters, but is hoping he can see him be more aggressive.
“I think Jake Walters is a competitor,” Goff said. “I think in his mind, throwing a ball over the plate is giving in. I think he’s just a competitor. I think he wants to be precise on every pitch. Whenever that happens, you get behind a little bit or you nibble too much. We’re just trying to get him to get in that zone a little more. He’s a fierce competitor and I respect the heck out of him.”