Randy York’s N-Sider
Editor’s Note: Nebraska baseball fans have a rare opportunity to help the Husker softball team break a record Saturday for the World’s Largest Softball Tailgate. Big Red baseball fans can get a free lunch beginning at 10 a.m. and free entry into the Nebraska-Ohio State softball game at Bowlin Stadium. The softball game begins at 1 p.m.. 65 minutes before the Husker baseball team plays Northwestern at Hawks Field, an adjacent venue. Check out the Tailgate opportunity here.
He’s Nebraska’s Friday Night Lights guy, the man on the mound who leads the Big Ten Conference with 66 innings pitched. He’s also the first pitcher at Nebraska to throw consecutive complete games in five years and has gone at least six innings 20 times this season, at least seven innings 13 times and eight or more innings nine times. He’s even pitched at least eight innings in four of his last five starts for a team that has won 10 of its last 11 games.
Christian DeLeon, No. 33 on your scorecard and No. 1 on the mound right now for the Huskers, is a 6-foot-3, 200-pound, right-handed pitcher from Richmond, Texas, via Foster High School, Blinn Community College and North Central Texas. How can all that productivity come from a player who kept moving until he landed in Lincoln and ended up playing for a head coach like Darin Erstad and a pitching coach like Ted Silva – two of the most conscientious and consistent coaches in college baseball?
That might not have been the best question to ask Silva, a staunch believer that productivity is never an accident. It is, in fact, what leaders will tell you every day – always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning and focused effort. DeLeon “put the work in over the summer,” Silva told me Thursday, the day before his Friday night starter goes for his third consecutive complete game against Northwestern at Hawks Field.
Getting Body in Shape, Enjoying Transformation
“Everybody thinks Christian’s doing all the work now,” Silva said. “Well, it started over the summer and kept going last fall. He was getting his body in shape. You can’t just show up in the spring and want to be good. His preparation has taken place a lot longer than people know. It’s not just this summer; it’s the summer before. The guy has been working hard ever since. He’s transformed his body into what it is now. He withstands the workload. If anything, he’s learned what it takes each and every day.”
The first Cornhusker pitcher to throw back-to-back complete games since Erik Bird achieved the feat in 2009 against New Mexico and Baylor, DeLeon’s efforts came in a 3-2 victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten home opener on April 4, and continued with a 5-2 win at Minnesota last Friday. “He’s mixing his pitches, and it’s not that easy to go out there and do it,” Silva said of DeLeon. “He’s just executing the simple things. I think he finally understands what it takes to prepare each week to go 100-plus pitches and get deep into each and every game.”
Strikes, Breaking Balls Keep Hitters Off Balance
In simplest terms, DeLeon’s main strength is his overall strike-throwing, along with mixing his changeup in any count “and now mixing up a breaking ball,” Silva told me. “All of that is helping him keep hitters off balance. When you have a guy who can command the fastball outside the plate-and-up and also mix an off-speed pitch, it’s always going to make it a lot easier to get the outs.”
Silva wants no part of a conversation that mentions DeLeon carrying a heavy load. “Is it heavy or is that what’s expected?” he asked. “It’s heavy because people talk about it being heavy all the time. Don’t we all expect starting pitchers to do that? It’s a little much for me to say it’s heavy. He’s just doing his job.”
And he’s doing it very well to lead Nebraska’s recent surge to contend for a Big Ten Championship. DeLeon “has come in and has been that kid that’s bought into the little things that it takes to be good,” Silva said. “He’s developed a changeup and he’s developed confidence with all of his pitches, knowing that he’s got that pitch in his back pocket whenever he needs it. I think that’s been one of the biggest separators for him, knowing that he has the ability to throw a changeup in any count.”
Adding Something He Never Had Changed Game
In life and in sports, true productivity is being able to do things that you were never able to do before, and with that killer changeup, productivity becomes a relative matter, if not insignificant for Christian DeLeon. That changeup, purely and simple, is the result of preparation and gives Deleon a crucial weapon in his arsenal every time he takes the mound. It will be interesting to see how far he can extend the momentum he’s created.