CHARLOTTESVILLE — There was a time when Daniel Lynch couldn’t even fathom getting a scholarship to play baseball at Virginia.
Lynch can remember when his Douglas Freeman High School teammate Jack Gerstenmaier committed to the Cavaliers back in 2013.
“He was like, larger than life,” Lynch said this week. “When I was little, he was the kid who committed to U.Va., and I had never even dreamed of that. I was 5-foot-6 and threw like 60 miles per hour. He was like, a huge celebrity.”
Now that spotlight shines on Lynch, a left-hander. He’s grown up to become 6-4, with a fastball in the high 80s to low 90s. He’s adding a slider to his pitching repertoire that already included that fastball, curveball and a change-up.
And the defending national champion Cavaliers are handing him the ball to start the second game of the season, against Appalachian State on Saturday in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
He’s the first true freshman to win a spot in U.Va.’s weekend rotation since Brandon Waddell in 2013.
“Daniel Lynch is starting Game 2 for us because he’s earned that,” coach Brian O’Connor said this week. “I thought he had a really good fall. I feel like he’s a very mature player. He’s shown a lot of poise out there. The upside of this young man in really tremendous.”
Lynch’s new teammates were similarly impressed by the rookie’s outings in the fall. And that group even includes Gerstenmaier.
“Just seeing him out there, he looked comfortable,” said Gerstenmaier. “He looked ready to compete. There was no fear. It was good to see. I think that’s when I knew he was ready for this level.”
Lynch, who said he hit a 5-inch growth spurt after his freshman year of high school, and Virginia Tech newcomer Nic Enright were the Richmond area’s top baseball recruits in this freshman class, but Lynch didn’t arrive in Charlottesville with overconfidence or arrogance.
After all, Lynch said, he was joining a team coming off a national title and was part of a recruiting class full of highly touted prospects.
“I never was at a point were I thought I was all that,” said Lynch, who added that he never pitched in any high school recruiting showcases. “Compared to the other kids in my class, I would say I had a lot less hype than them.”
Lynch said that, even if he had been a bit cocky upon getting to U.Va., O’Connor and pitching coach Karl Kuhn would have quickly knocked that out of him. Lynch said it took only a matter of days to realize just how serious a pursuit college baseball will be, especially at Virginia, where the champs are replacing three key pitchers — Nathan Kirby, Waddell and Josh Sborz.
Junior ace Connor Jones will start the season opener today against Kent State.
For Lynch, who showed up in the fall just hoping to get some innings of work, wake-up calls abounded.
“The first time Coach Kuhn yelled at me and got in my face,” said Lynch. “Or the first team meeting that was like, two hours long. I just realized how serious it was. It wasn’t a meeting to say, ‘Here’s your belt. Here are your socks. And we have practice tomorrow.’ ”
O’Connor said, with a roster that includes 16 freshmen and two transfers, he and his coaching staff are intentionally pushing a bit harder this preseason, introducing the rookies to the crucible of college baseball.
Lynch has noticed.
“It’s a lot of pressure every single day,” said Lynch. “You hate it at first, admittedly, but you start to learn to realize that’s what it’s going to be like when you go out there and pitch.”
Seeing Lynch take the ball with confidence in his first fall start proved something to his teammates, including Adam Haseley, a sophomore pitcher and outfielder, who was in Lynch’s position last year.
“It was like he’d been out there, like he was a veteran,” said Haseley. “I think he’s pretty mentally tough, and I personally think he’s ready for the start of the season. I think he’s prepared, and I think he’ll give us a chance to win every time he goes out there.”