Twenty-three more strikeouts and three more wins turned out to be the difference for Slippery Rock baseball junior ace pitcher Alex Pantuso. On last year’s flatlining baseball team that could only muster a 13-36 record, Pantuso did not have a great year, holding a 6.54 ERA and a .299 batting average against him. One year later, the team is 23-17 and on the brink of a playoff birth, and Pantuso is fifth in the Pennsylvania State Athletic conference in strikeouts with 74, and 14th in batting average against with .188.
“This season I’ve been just taking it one batter at a time instead of looking at the bigger picture, so I think that’s helped me get more batters out,” Pantuso said. “I think mentally just focusing on one guy at a time has helped me do that. Last year I threw the same pitches, so I definitely think it’s more mental than physical.”
Pantuso’s pitching arsenal has always included his powerful fastball, but over his time at Slippery Rock, his breaking pitch has changed.
“My freshman year I threw a curveball instead of a slider. Once I came to college, I found out that a curveball was a little easier to pick up because a slider is harder,” Pantuso said. “I switched over to a slider and it’s worked out pretty well for me.”
Pantuso’s confident mindset is something that has separated him from the pack this year, as he said that he “pitches to everybody the same” and he “thinks it’s more fun to face the guys who are the better hitters in the conference.” Pantuso then expanded his remark to compliment the conference he plays in. “It’s a really good hitting conference, no questions asked. Some of the better hitters can be more fun at times, just to see where you’re at pitching-wise.”
College pitchers rarely get the chance to hit, which Pantuso talked about missing. “I definitely miss swinging the bat. Sometimes I go into the barn and hit off the tee a little bit,” Pantuso said, but then clarified that him not hitting is for the best. “It’s better to focus on one thing at a time for me in particular. Being a starting pitcher, its important to rest your arm and playing in the field between starts would not help me as a pitcher.”
Pantuso exemplifies the “team-player” mold to a tee, giving a lot of credit to his teammates for his improved performance this year.
“I’ve gotten a lot of help defensively this year, ” Pantuso said. “whether it be Tyler [Walters] throwing somebody out at second, or a double play, it helps limit the pitch count.”
Pantuso was also ready to give credit to the coaching staff for his success.
“Both coaches have a lot of confidence in me, and that goes a long way,” Pantuso said. “Having coach John [Kovalik] in my bullpens is an advantage. If he sees something in my bullpens that I’m not seeing, he lets me know. Having someone there telling you that you’re doing good definitely helps you go out there and perform well.”
With his 6’5″ frame and a powerful mid-90s fastball, “There have been a few scouts from different teams at the games,” said Pantuso, who also said that his draft stock is not affecting him right now.
When asked, Pantuso said he does not think about playing professionally. “I’m focused on Slippery Rock. [Playing Professionally] has definitely crossed my mind. I’m just going to try to take it one step at a time: if something happens it happens. I’m focusing now on playoffs and regionals.”
Pantuso will be the number one pitcher for The Rock, who finishes their regular season this weekend with two doubleheaders versus Seton Hill University, today at Kelly Automotive stadium in Butler, and Saturday at Seton Hill. Slippery Rock also has a single home game versus Gannon University slated for Monday at home, if necessary.