Countless pitchers have gone from being “failed starters” to having very successful careers out of the bullpen. Zach Britton was a starter his first three years in the majors, but he never posted an ERA under 4.50. He’s the best closer in baseball now. Even Mariano Rivera, who is widely considered to be the greatest closer ever, suffered through 10 horrendous starts before finding a spot in the pen.
Union University’s Marty Coursey may be no Mariano Rivera, but he has certainly seen his season and even his Union career turn around in the last month-and-a-half due to a similar change in role. Coursey was a starting pitcher in high school and his first two years at Union. His first six appearances this season were all starts, and he posted a less-than-exceptional 6.64 ERA in the span.
“He just wasn’t having that much success as a starter,” Lee Driggers, Union head coach, said. “We just felt like, with his competitiveness, could bring him out of the pen, and it’s proved to be a great move for us.”
This truly was a great move for the Bulldogs. Since moving to the pen, Coursey has tossed 19.2 scoreless innings while accumulating five saves and two wins in 11 appearances.
What has been the difference, though? Why has Coursey been so dominant in this role? At its core, baseball is still baseball– you still stand on a mound 60 feet from home plate and throw a ball really hard, regardless of which inning it is in. Coursey attributes his success as the closer to his mentality and toughness in close-game situations.
“I get really nervous in those situations,” Coursey said. “But it’s more fun and everything has a purpose. I would like to make the most important pitches in every game. It’s a lot of pressure but it’s a lot of fun. And I don’t want anyone else in the game– I want to be the one wearing [the loss] if I have to.”
What’s even more amazing about this transition is Coursey wasn’t even supposed to be the closer when this change was made. According to Driggers, he started out as a “setup guy,” which is basically just baseball slang for “the guy we put in when the game is out of hand.” Coursey only saw the mound three times in March after his final start on March 5th, but he played well enough to earn more appearances in April and ultimately become the guy they bring in when the game is hanging in the balance.
In addition to individual accomplishments, Coursey’s stellar play has helped lead the Bulldogs to 30 wins so far, shattering their previous high of 20 wins since they moved to NCAA Division II.
Union has achieved one more first this season: next weekend, Union will play in its first Gulf South Conference Tournament. Should the Bulldogs advance to the Championship Game, they will have four games in four days, and having an arm like Coursey’s ready to pitch any inning at any moment will be absolutely huge if this team wants to make a title run.