PORTLAND -- With a fastball that can reach the mid-90s, Jesuit’s Mick Abel has an unusual weapon in his arsenal.
For the 6-foot-5, 185-pound junior pitcher to take the next step in his progression this season, though, he knows he must give the flamethrowing a rest sometimes.
“Last year I focused a little bit too much on throwing hard and not really trying to throw strikes and get batters out,” Abel said. “But this year I’m going at batters. I’m attacking early, and making sure I’m keeping that the entire game and not letting up.”
The early results are encouraging. Coming off a one-hit, 12-strikeout performance in his season debut last week, Abel held No. 8 Central Catholic to two hits and struck out nine in four innings Thursday as the No. 2 Crusaders rolled to a 6-2 home win that was called in the sixth inning due to darkness.
Jesuit coach Colin Griffin likes what he’s seeing in his ace, who has committed to Oregon State.
“He’s a competitor. He doesn’t have any fear up there,” Griffin said. “He doesn’t rely on just his fastball. He has command of three pitches, four if he needs it. He works in, works out, changes his timing on hitters. He’s the real deal.”
Abel got all the support he needed in the first inning Thursday when Jesuit (3-1) struck for three runs, getting a solo homer from junior Kevin Blair and run-scoring singles from junior Ethan Wilson and sophomore Sean Murphy.
Two innings later, junior James Porter hit a solo homer and senior Josh Daul added an RBI double to make it 5-0, closing the book on Rams junior pitcher Jackson Elder.
Abel worked the fourth inning – giving up a home run to Central Catholic junior catcher Luke Farah -- before calling it a night on 72 pitches. He finished with two walks and two hit batters against the Rams (1-3-1).
“My first outing was really nice,” Abel said of last week’s win over South Salem. “I had really good location with my fastball, and it felt like my slider was pretty good, too. Tonight it was a little bit different with my fastball. It was kind of rainy, kind of wet. I’m not going to blame it on the rain. I didn’t have my best stuff tonight.”
Still, it’s clear that Abel has taken a major step forward from last season. A year ago, when his season was cut short after suffering a torn left labrum while batting, he struck out 37 and walked 22 in 23 2/3 innings. This season, he has struck out 21 and walked two in 10 innings.
“The difference I see in him right now is accuracy,” Griffin said. “Last year he was excited about his velocity a little bit, and this year he’s throwing whatever he wants at any time.”
Abel said his biggest improvement is mental.
“I was fortunate enough to do a lot of stuff with USA Baseball this past year, and I think all those coaches really helped me with my mental game a lot,” Abel said. “It really helped me keep my composure. I’m not getting too rowdy, not getting too in my head. Last year I tended to get in my head a lot, and a lot of stuff didn’t go my way.”
Abel could have gone off the rails in two separate innings Thursday, but showed his composure by buckling down. After hitting the first two batters he faced in the second inning, he fanned the next two and escaped unscathed. In the fourth, he allowed a leadoff homer and a walk, but struck out the next three.
Jesuit senior catcher Joe Angeli is impressed by Abel’s progress.
“Last year he was a little bit wild, but this year he’s got his control way down, with all his pitches,” Angeli said. “We called a 3-2 curveball because we have so much faith in what he does.
“He’s going to be incredible. He’s only a junior, and he’s only going to get beefier. When he puts on about 15 pounds, he’ll be throwing upper 90s. Unhittable.”
Abel has grown about an inch from last season.
“Going forward I need to gain weight, get some more muscle,” Abel said. “I’m a stringbean right now. I don’t want to be like that forever.”
Blair had two of Jesuit’s nine hits. Central Catholic, coming off a 17-1 win at No. 5 Lake Oswego on Tuesday, managed only four hits, but Rams coach Brian Grant was encouraged by how his batters made Abel work.
“I told our kids I was really pleased with how we got the pitch count up,” Grant said. “He had to really grind to get through a lot of innings.”