'Dream come true' likely means sleepness night for Belmont pitcher

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 7:53pm

Matt Hamann described the opportunity to play in an NCAA Regional as “a dream come true.”

However, there is a good chance he will be restless the night before Belmont takes on Vanderbilt in the Nashville Regional at 7 p.m. on Friday at Vanderbilt’s Hawkins Field.

Why? 
Because Belmont Head Coach Dave Jarvis will turn to the right-handed fourth-year junior to start on the mound opposite Vanderbilt ace Sonny Gray and the Commodores, who are seeded sixth nationally.

“I’m sure I won’t be able to sleep on Thursday night,” Hamann said. “But I’ll just try to figure out a way to keep the emotions in check.”

Hamann has kept opposing batters in check all season. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder is 9-1 with a 2.22 ERA in 22 appearances this year.

When the Bruins (36-24) sputtered to a 3-8 start to Atlantic Sun Conference play, Jarvis decided to make a move. He rotated in Hamann, along with Josh Davis (5-1), into the weekend rotation. The decision has paid off as Hamann has puzzled hitters in his eight starts. That includes last week when he allowed just one earned run on three hits in six innings pitched in Belmont’s 15-3 victory over Stetson to open the league tournament, a game in which he took a no-hitter into the fifth inning.

This came just four days after he pitched eight innings in a 5-2 victory over league-leading Stetson, helping the Bruins qualify for the A-Sun tournament.

“He has a tremendous bulldog mentality out there on the mound,” Jarvis said. “Matt and I had talked about this back in the fall — if the opportunity arose, we would give him consideration as a starting pitcher. We put him to that role and he has just flourished and really prospered and done well in that role for us.”

The funny thing is Hamann wasn’t recruited to Belmont to be a pitcher.

“During the recruiting process, they were saying they thought I had more potential as a hitter but it just didn’t work out the way,” he said.

Hamann, a native of Northbrook, Ill., thought he would get onto the field as a first baseman or outfielder.

After redshirting as a freshman, though, his fastball picked up speed. So in 2009 he split time as a starting pitcher and in middle relief — he also started 22 games as a designated hitter — for a 4-3 record on the mound. The second start of his career actually came against Vanderbilt, and he allowed just one run in three innings.

Hamann moved to a permanent role in the bullpen last season and led the team in appearances with 28. He had a 5-3 record with one save and a 6.40 ERA as he was third on the team in strikeouts (42).

But last summer boosted his confidence as he was named the MVP of the Wilson (N.C.) Tobs, a summer collegiate baseball team out of the Coastal Plain League. There he worked with head coach Jeff Steele, who is the pitching coach at Lubbock Christian University in Texas. He soaked in advice from Steele and bonded with other Belmont teammates who were there: outfielder Dylan Craig, infielder Zac Mitchell and catcher Matt Zeblo.

“It definitely helped me out,” Hamann said. “Being able to especially work with Matt Zeblo that helped tremendously, being to able further the relationship with the catcher… There is no fear throwing any pitch to him in any count. Whatever pitch he puts down, I trust it a lot.”

Hamann said he stopped trying to just paint the outside corner of the plate with his pitches. Instead over the offseason, he said he started to use both sides of the plate as he employed an arsenal that includes a fastball, changeup, curveball and splitter to “try and confuse them up there.”

“I have really stepped up into the role this year, sort of matured a lot since then,” Hamann, who has been clocked at 93 miles per hour, said. “So I was able to make the transition [to starter] a lot better. ... Early on in the season, I felt like I didn’t have as good of stuff. But the weather warmed up and something clicked. It is hard to explain really. Something turned on in my head and I just figured it out.”

On Friday, Hamann will make history when he becomes the first Belmont pitcher to start an NCAA Regional game. It will probably be a nerve-racking experience, considering he’ll be pitching to one of the top hitting teams in the country.

But he is excited about the opportunity and the chance to pitch against Gray, who is most likely destined to be pitching in the big leagues.

“He is something special,” Hamann said. “He is going to be tough to beat.”

But Hamann will give it his best shot. Most likely on little sleep.