The Oregon State baseball team’s motto for the 2018 season is simple.
After being unceremoniously left out of the NCAA Tournament field two years ago, the Beavers dominated the regular season in 2017, marauding into Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series with a record of 54-4.
OSU won its first two contests at TD Ameritrade Park, but lost two straight to eventual runner-up LSU to prematurely end a season that began with national-title aspirations.
The Beavers want to finish the job this year, and if they’re successful, it’s a good bet former Snohomish High School standout Jake Mulholland will be on the mound for that final out.
Mulholland, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound sophomore left-hander and one of five players with local ties on the Beavers’ roster, has taken sole ownership of the closer’s spot for Oregon State this season after sharing the role with the departed Max Engelbrekt as a freshman.
Mulholland led OSU with six saves in his first collegiate season, and pitched to a 1.20 earned run average with a 7-1 record in 52⅓ innings of work.
After an offseason of weight training four days a week, Mulholland is 12 pounds stronger than last year, and said he felt physically ready to answer the call to pitch more frequently this season, despite leading the team in appearances as a freshman with 28.
“Pretty early on this year, the coaches told me they’d like me to be that ninth-inning guy, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t come in in the fifth inning,” Mulholland said in a phone interview after the Beavers defeated Nevada 8-7 on April 3.
“I got my body stronger so I could be more reliable, and come in and close day after day. I feel like I’m in pretty good shape to be able to bounce back on a quick turnaround.”
Mulholland has made a team-high 16 appearances for the ninth-ranked Beavers (27-6), compiling a 1-1 record with a 2.11 ERA and nine saves.
Five of his appearances came in a seven-day period in early March, and he worked 9 2/3 innings over five appearances in an 11-day span later in the month.
Mulholland is an interesting fit at the back end of Oregon State’s bullpen because he’s a true four-pitch guy — he’ll throw his fastball, curveball, change-up and slider with almost equal frequency — and because he’s not limited to just the ninth inning.
“He can pitch six innings or get six outs,” Oregon State head coach Pat Casey said in a phone interview early last week. “He’s a very versatile guy.”
Most college pitchers who can command four pitches to both sides of the plate end up as starters because of their ability to go through a lineup multiple times with their varied offerings.
Mulholland is a stark contrast to the prototypical college closer — mid-90s fastball and a power breaking ball.
Teams across all levels of baseball are asking more of their relievers, especially in the postseason, and Casey and OSU pitching coach Nate Yeskie feel a general sense of comfort when Mulholland is on the mound.
“Coming into the season, we had very few guys that had any experience pitching at the end of a game, and we really trusted what he was able to do in those situations,” Casey said. “If we wanted to prepare him to be a starter, we could do that. I don’t think it’s his best role, but it could be. We think that his composure is important, and he’s done it before and he’s someone we trust to get those last three outs.”
That confidence in Mulholland is well-founded. In 73 2/3 collegiate innings, he’s allowed 12 earned runs and walked eight batters. In short, he is an ultra-efficient out-getter.
He’s also a self-starting student of the game who is constantly refining his repertoire. In addition to his work in the weight room, Mulholland tinkered with his curveball grip in the offseason to make the pitch more distinct from his slider.
“Last year, I threw more of a slurve,” he said. “I called it my slider because it was a little harder, but I came into the offseason with a goal to make them more different pitches.”
His curveball is now more of the 12-to-6 variety, and he said he feels his slider is a tighter, firmer offering.
“If I throw the curve early in the count and the guy hasn’t seen my slider before, I can throw it if he’s sitting off-speed, but the slider is seven or eight miles per hour faster,” Mulholland said.
Mulholland said he, Casey and Yeskie have discussed the possibility of Mulholland starting games for the Beavers.
“They’ve asked me how I felt about it and I just said, ‘Wherever you feel I can help the team,’” he said. “I feel like I can come in and throw strikes at any time, and I think it makes them feel comfortable to have me out there. I’ve embraced the (closer’s) role. It’s exciting to come in at any time and pitch at the end of games. You get to be a part of pretty much every game.”
In his only appearance at the College World Series last year, Mulholland retired 12 of the 13 batters he faced in 4 1/3 innings of hitless, scoreless relief in a victory over Cal State Fullerton.
“It was the best baseball experience I’ve ever had,” he said. “Getting to throw in a game there was pretty incredible, and once you get there, all you want to do is get back.”
If Oregon State starts another run in Omaha in June, Mulholland likely will be on the mound whenever it finishes.