Pitching is an inherently difficult activity. It takes many years to master the art of hurling the baseball over home plate with consistency and accuracy. The minor league system provides opportunities for pitchers to hone their craft. For Dominic DeMasi of the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats, his journey through the Indians farm system has been about developing that consistency.
“When I got drafted I was actually more over the top mechanically,” said DeMasi. “I throw a sinker, cutter, and slider. I’m just trying to repeat the same stuff. The change from when I was drafted is now just getting repetition.”
The Indians selected DeMasi in the 31st round of the 2014 draft out of Valdosta State. In his professional career, he has operated primarily as a reliever, having started only four games prior to the current campaign. This season, when pressed into duty as a starter, he performed quite well, on par with most of the other pitchers who have taken turns in the Hillcats rotation.
“It’s pretty crazy. They keep telling me I’m still a reliever, and I have like eleven starts now,” says DeMasi. “It’s just baseball both ways. I don’t think about it. I started in college as a junior, so I have a feel for what my routine is as a starter.”
In eleven starts, he achieved a 4-1 record with a 2.14 ERA and held opposing batters to a .197 batting average. In the second of those starting assignments, he pitched five innings against the Salem Red Sox, facing the minimum 15 batters while allowing only a single hit. The lone base runner was promptly erased by a double play.
His most recent start, number 12, was on the road in Kinston, facing off against the Down East Wood Ducks. He tossed seven strong innings, allowing only three hits and a walk and no earned runs. Multiple errors put two runs on the board before DeMasi left the game, and he got tagged with a loss to move his record to 4-2.
A native of East Rockaway, New York, on Long Island, his family relocated to Georgia when he was just three years old, so he considers himself a southerner, having lived in Georgia his whole life since. He attended Calvary Baptist High School where the team he played on made it to the final four his sophomore and senior years, and the final eight during his junior season. His hitting coach was an alum of Valdosta State and had attended his high school and got DeMasi a tryout with the Blaze.
“I had signed with South Georgia, a junior college,” DeMasi said. “My coach got me a showcase and I fell in love with Valdosta State at the get go.”
The school is more of a football environment, and DeMasi played on both the football and baseball teams while in college, alternating seasons between pitching and punting. Notable Valdosta State athlete alumni include Jessie Tuggle, a Pro Bowler for the Atlanta Falcons, Maurice Leggett, and Antonio Edwards, among other NFL players. On the baseball side, the most notable figure is Jason Bulger, who was a first round selection of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and saw time in the Majors over seven seasons, first with the D-Backs and then the Los Angeles Angels.
“It was a lot of fun,” says DeMasi. “During football season, I would go to baseball three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, just to throw and get my arm moving. During baseball season, I wouldn’t throw the football, I would wait till summer.”
Two experiences motivated DeMasi to target the baseball draft. Conditioning from summer workouts for football increased his endurance. During a scout day during his junior year football season a coach observed DeMasi and urged him to follow in the tradition of previous Blaze athletes and pursue a chance to be drafted in baseball.
“I hit 94 on scout day and he [DeMasi’s pitching coach] said, ‘You have a shot at this if you keep working.’ I put all my chips in and did what I had to do to get drafted.”
DeMasi rejoined the Hillcats after making eleven appearances for them in 2016. After putting up a 7.04 ERA in 23 innings, for a Hillcats team that lost the league championship to Myrtle Beach, he has come back and refocused himself in the current season. In addition to taking on as starting role, even if temporary, he has made a short one-game appearance for AA Akron, and he got to pitch an inning in a spring training game.
“That was pretty exciting. We were at Kansas City and we went to the tenth inning. They said, DeMasi, you’re in. I’d backed up for two or three games before that but I didn’t expect to get in. It gives you a lot more energy when you are playing in front of 12,000 fans”
He threw a perfect inning, including getting Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas out.
At Akron, DeMasi got a spot start in mid-July against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. He pitched five innings, earning the win on a two-hit, six-strikeout effort.
“It was a change of scenery,” DeMasi said. “I’d been here all year. It was good to get away and see those guys who I’d played with and got drafted with. Some of the starters up there had come up from Lynchburg, like Esparza. It was good getting to see what it’s like at AA. Coming back it gave me more confidence that I can compete at that level.”
With that renewed confidence and a repeatable set of mechanics, DeMasi has quietly put up strong numbers for a Hillcats pitching staff that is dominating the Carolina League. In 94 innings, DeMasi has a 2.68 ERA, with 64 strikeouts to only 21 walks, and has limited batters to a .231 average. In addition to getting credit for six victories, he also has two saves. Whether he is on the mound for the National Anthem, or when there are only three outs remaining, his approach is the same.
“Getting outs. That’s all it comes down to. It doesn’t matter if it’s the beginning of the game or the end of the game.”
This season, DeMasi has turned the corner and has shown himself and the Indians organization that he is capable of pitching effectively at an elite level. Being part of a strong Hillcats rotation has put him in position to further his career. Right now, completing his communications degree at Valdosta State will have to wait. He has found that elusive consistency as a pitcher and has all his chips in as he contributes to a run at a championship.
Photo: Jay Westcott/The News and Advance