CHARLOTTESVILLE — Noah Murdock’s go-to pitch is his slider. It has been since Murdock broke into Virginia baseball’s starting rotation as a freshman in 2017. But last fall, as he continued his comeback from Tommy John surgery, Murdock — a former Colonial Heights High School star — went with a different pitch to get outs.
Every. Single. Time.
“It’s a little frustrating,” the junior right-hander said. “You want to throw your other pitches. You know your other pitches are good. But for me, I knew I had to work on my change-up. So I really devoted time for that.”
UVA pitching coach Karl Kuhn said the addition makes Murdock a more vexing matchup for opposing hitters. It also allowed Murdock to work on a pitch that would put less stress on his surgically repaired arm as he continued to get back to full strength.
For Kuhn, the challenge in the fall was to get Murdock to embrace leaning on a pitch he was just learning.
“You can’t do anything that you don’t want to do. You just won’t do it,” Kuhn said. “In an uncomfortable situation, time or environment, that’s a very difficult thing to do. Nobody likes to be uncomfortable. While you’re uncomfortable, you’re having to learn, and you’re having to fail.”
Murdock may have taken some lumps relying so heavily on the change-up in the fall, but once the season came around, that work paid off. Murdock now possesses a change-up he’s confident he can sprinkle with his slider, fastball and curve at almost any count.
Throwing all of them consistently for strikes has been the junior’s challenge this season. Murdock is 3-4 with a 5.17 ERA in 11 starts this year for the Cavaliers (27-20, 10-14 ACC), who are in 11th place overall in the ACC and in a fight to avoid missing the conference tournament for the first time in program history.
Getting Murdock to not only pitch well, but work deep into games, will be key for UVA down the stretch, starting with this weekend’s home series against Louisville, the Cavaliers’ next-to-last ACC series of the year.
He is averaging 5 2/3 innings per start this year and didn’t make it out of the sixth inning in any of his four starts in April.
“He needs to be more efficient,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “He needs to pitch us into that sixth, seventh inning. … That said, he has to be showing at that point in time that he’s deserving to stay in there.”
Murdock, despite only pitching in five games last season when he came back in April, just over 10 months after his surgery, is the rotation’s most experienced starter and one of the pitching staff’s veterans. He’s pitched in 27 games in his UVA career, making 22 starts.
He’s 8-7 all-time and five strikeouts short of hitting 100 for his career.
“It’s kind of crazy, because I had that year off last year, and time has really flown by,” Murdock said. “It doesn’t seem like I am that guy this year, but I do have a big role on this team. I’ve pitched a lot of Friday games for us this year.”
And while Kuhn acknowledges it is a bit crazy to consider a pitcher with just over 50 career innings coming into the season as a veteran, he said not to discount the time Murdock has spent with the program but off the mound.
“Regardless of the innings, he’s been around me for three years. He knows who I am. He knows what I like and don’t like,” Kuhn said. “He’s matured so much since his first year. Regardless of his innings out there, he’s matured as a person.”