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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Hirsh Takes Giant Steps in His Game

College baseball: Cal Lutheran's 6-foot-8, 250-pound pitcher is improving with each outing.

March 23, 2001|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At 6 feet 8 and 250 pounds, Jason Hirsh is hard to overlook.

And considering that such a physical specimen comes with a right arm that can throw a baseball around 90 mph, it's even more noticeable.

Yet, of all the college baseball coaches who scour the nation looking for recruits, apparently only Cal Lutheran's visited St. Francis High last year to check out Hirsh.

"We looked at the upside of Jason," Coach Marty Slimak said. "A lot of schools want a more polished player immediately."

The Kingsmen got a player who is becoming more refined with every outing.

Hirsh is 4-0 with a 1.71 earned-run average and 24 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings as the team's No. 3 starter.

"At the beginning [of the season], I didn't know how I would pan out, as far as starting or relieving," Hirsh said.

Slimak gave Hirsh his first start on Feb. 11 against Caltech because you don't need to be a rocket scientist to know the Beavers are more likely to concoct a mathematical formula during a game than a two-run rally.

The Kingsmen had defeated Caltech, 31-3 and 21-0, in their two meetings this season.

Hirsh responded with a seven-inning four-hitter for a 14-0 victory. He then defeated Redlands, 7-3, and Menlo College, 7-1. His last victory was a seven-inning three-hitter against North Central (Ill.), 7-1, on Sunday.

"Caltech isn't exactly the world's greatest team, but I couldn't take them lightly," Hirsh said. "It was a good way to start off. I could get my confidence up.

"North Central, it was the beginning of their season, but they are a decent team. They hit the ball well. I was able to keep the ball down."

At St. Francis, Hirsh relied mainly on his fastball to get batters out. He had 52 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings last season and a 2.63 ERA, but was 4-5 on a team that finished 11-11. In 1999, he was 4-3 with a 3.40 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 42 innings.

But it wasn't uncommon for Hirsh to throw 100 pitches or more over seven innings.

"We had a good program, but our defense wasn't rock solid," Hirsh said. "I worried about it."

Cal Lutheran (14-7, 6-0 in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play) is not getting fit for gold gloves, committing 27 errors for a .964 fielding average. Still, Hirsh says the defense provides adequate support.

"I trust them when I'm on the mound," he said.

Slimak said Hirsh constantly works on his repertoire, with favorable results. Hirsh has limited opponents to a .223 batting average and only six walks.

"He has always had a pretty good fastball," Slimak said. "But through some mechanical work, he is starting to throw the breaking ball and the change-up well, which is going to make him a much better pitcher."

Hirsh also is having to bear down considerably more than in high school, where teams usually don't have an abundance of dangerous hitters. With Cal Lutheran, he's facing tougher lineups and learning to pace himself for nine-inning games.

"All these guys can hit now," Hirsh said. "I can't slack off with the bottom of the order. Mistakes, like walks, are going to hurt me more than in high school."

The Kingsmen are idle because of spring break until March 30, when they start a three-game series with Whittier. Hirsh is spending time at home in Burbank, running and playing long toss with a friend to stay sharp.

"I'm looking forward [to my next start]," Hirsh said. "I always want to throw. When I don't throw, I get almost frustrated."

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