Nick Pasquale – Hunting Up Opportunities

On the third day of May, Nick Pasquale was assigned to the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats. That day would be the first of three games cancelled over the next week as heavy rains swept through the Central Virginia area. This forced a doubleheader against the Carolina Mudcats and the loss of an off day in order to make up a game against division rival Potomac.

More importantly, it would produce an opportunity for Pasquale to move out of the bullpen and get an opportunity as a starting pitcher.

“He wasn’t able to break camp coming out of Spring Training,” said pitching coach Rigo Beltran. “He stayed behind, strengthened his arm, but when he came over here his velocity climbed up a bit.”

His last start had been in 2013, pitching for those same Carolina Mudcats back when that team was part of the Cleveland farm system. That season, after being promoted from Low-A Lake County, he made 20 trips to the bump, pitching 102 innings, with a 6-7 record and a 3.97 ERA.

The following season was wiped out as he had arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder and the 2015 season became one of recovery and rediscovery.

“I had my shoulder scoped at a bad time, the first month of the [2014] season so I wasn’t able to bounce back,” said Pasquale. “Then last year we didn’t know what kind of pitcher I was going to be, how I was going to recover from the surgery.”

In 2015 he made 46 appearances split between Lake County, Lynchburg, and Akron, all in a relief role. He had a respectable record at 4-3 and a combined 3.58 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 76 innings – serviceable, though not exactly the type of performance line that moves a career in the direction of the Major Leagues.

After three appearances out of Lynchburg’s bullpen to begin this current season he got the call from manager Mark Budzinski to start game two of a double header against the Salem Red Sox.

“It was exciting. I was told ‘Pasquale you’re going to get the start.’ And I went out to see what I could do,” he said about the unexpected opportunity.

Spreading six hits across four innings, he allowed only a single earned run, getting a no-decision in a game the Hillcats would go on to win. With the number of doubleheaders and extra-inning games played by the Hillcats during his first few weeks with the team, Pasquale continued to get opportunities to start games. When teammate Julian Merryweather went on the disabled list with a strained shoulder, he moved into the rotation on a regular basis.

“He got a spot start, and has thrown the ball really well,” said Budzinski about the value of Pasquale. “He’s not afraid to attack the zone. Coming out of the pen or starting, he can do a lot of things for us.”

He was hit on the hand in a game against Wilmington, but it did nothing more than leave a nice welt, etched with the baseball’s stitching, on his hand.

He made eight appearances for the Hillcats, five as a starter, and racked up a 2-1 record with a 2.03 ERA, 25 strikeouts in 26.2 innings pitched, and walked only seven of the batters he has faced. This excellent performance has contributed to the overall team effort and helped to push the Hillcats to winning the first half Northern Division title in the Carolina League.

“This year I got my body in better shape and feel better than I did in 2013, so I’m excited that right now I have an opportunity to be in the rotation,” said Pasquale about what has been working for him so far this season.

The 6’0”, 190 lb. right-hander was selected in the 20th round of the 2012 First Year Player Draft. He had played briefly at St. Mary’s College of California, but transferred to junior college at Diablo Valley, before being selected by the Indians.

“I got an offer to go to St. Mary’s late in the summer before my freshman year. I red shirted and next year came back and pitched only one game,” said Pasquale. “I left and went to junior college [Diablo Valley] and had committed to go to NC State the next fall. The Indians drafted me and I decided to go with it. I couldn’t really pass it up.”

He grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, where he followed his older brother who played baseball. A fielder through his junior year of high school, he then began to throw a little bit harder and made a shift to the mound.

His principle offering is a fastball, but he also has a change-up and is working on a slider.

“I throw a lot of fastballs,” says Pasquale. “I’m trying to get a better feel for all my pitches, trying to get a legit number two, more depth to my change-up so that I can use it as a strikeout pitch.”

He has worked diligently with Beltran, as well as roving pitching instructor Ruben Niebla, on improving his change-up and in particular his slider. Having the opportunity to work as a starter only gives him more opportunities to use those pitches in game situations.

“Being a starter you get to work on it in bullpens and then go out in the game and go five or six innings where you have to use it,” said Pasquale. “When you’re in the ‘pen, for one inning, you don’t necessarily have to use it.”

Being from the Bay Area he was confident the Warriors could take the NBA Championship, especially because they were up 3-1, though the suspension of Draymond Green led him to be cautious. He would ultimately be disappointed by Golden State losing to the Cavaliers in a thrilling game seven. Beyond his childhood fandom of the Giants, 49ers and Warriors, he is an avowed duck hunter.

“I have a black lab back home,” said Pasquale, “I go out with him and four or five of my best friends. It’s actually better hunting than you think. The Pacific flyway is right there so we get some good hunts in.”

Whether he is out hunting, taking classes to finish up his degree, or toeing the rubber for the Hillcats, Pasquale brought enjoyment and intensity with him and got the job done. As he worked to build his repertoire of pitches, his success so far this season provided him with opportunities and, on Sunday, June 18, a promotion to AA Akron.

Photo: Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

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