McPheron taking advantage of opportunities

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Then-junior right-handed pitcher Austin McPheron throws a pitch during SIU’s 7-4 loss to Memphis on March 24 at Itchy Jones Stadium. McPheron pitched 3.2 innings and had 5 strikeouts.

By Thomas Donley, @TDonleyDE

The punter on a football team is in a unique position: he only sees the field when his team fails to pick up a first down. 

A long relief pitcher is in a similar situation, almost exclusively pitching when his team is trailing early in the game. 

Junior right-hander Austin McPheron has filled that often uncertain role for Saluki baseball this season.

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“With that role you’ve got to be ready to go from pitch one, because you never know how the starter’s going to do,” he said. “I treat it as if I’m starting. That way, I’m mentally prepared to go from the first inning on.”

McPheron said he sticks to a routine to stay prepared on game days, stretching his legs first then his arms, using resistance cords to loosen his arm, throwing a weighted ball, playing catch and throwing long toss, depending on how he feels. He finishes with a “short box” bullpen session to make sure he has a feel for all his pitches.

After a rough start to the season, in which he allowed four earned runs in 1/3 of an inning in his first two appearances, McPheron has allowed four earned runs in his last 20 innings. While he is 1-0 on the season, the Salukis are 3-7 in games he pitches.

“It’s a unique situation,” pitching coach P.J. Finigan said. “You have to always be ready because you’re probably going to be fired into action when things aren’t going well. You have to have the confidence to come in and get people out when there’s runners on base. [McPheron]’s done a great job of that. He has a very, very, very even-keeled personality, and I think that’s why it works for him.”

McPheron said a turning point for him was his third outing of the season, in which he went 3 2/3 innings on March 24 in relief of junior lefty Joey Marciano, allowing one run on three hits with five strikeouts against Memphis.

“I think with last year struggling as much as I did, I wasn’t ready for game experience,” said the Johnston City native. “I really needed that one game just to gain confidence and show myself I could do it in a game. When I came in against Memphis and had a really good outing, that propelled me for the rest of the season and gave me a lot of confidence.”

As a sophomore in 2015, McPheron posted an 0-4 record and a 16.53 ERA in nine appearances, including four midweek starts. His 2016 ERA sits at 3.54 in 10 games. Finigan said McPheron’s durability helps the 6-foot-4 righty pitch multiple innings of relief and had him in contention for the 2016 starting rotation.

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As McPheron has proven himself in long relief, he has earned higher-leverage opportunities. His last two appearances have come while the Dawgs were leading.

“When he got opportunities, he threw well,” coach Ken Henderson said. “If you have success, you get more and better opportunities, and he’s certainly done that.”

Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3307

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