Sights and Sounds
06/01/2005 12:15 PM ET
No limit for Spikes finalist Hochevar
By DEAN GOLEMBESKI / MLBPLAYERS.com
As he prepared for 2005 and his junior season at the University of Tennessee, pitcher Luke Hochevar didn't set any goals for wins, strikeouts or ERA.
He didn't want to limit himself.
The result for the 6-foot-5 right-hander from Fowler, Colo., has been one of the best seasons in the history of UT baseball.
Hochevar finished the regular season with a 14-2 record, picking up his most recent win in a 5-1 victory against LSU in the opening round of the SEC tournament. It was the Vols' first win ever against LSU in the SEC tournament and moved Hochevar into a tie for second place on UT's all-time single-season victory list.
"I always expect the highest marks for myself," said Hochevar, who helped the Vols fashion a 41-19 record and earn a spot in the NCAA championship tournament that begins this week. "It wasn't one of my goals that I wanted to come out and win such and such a number of games.
"My goal at the beginning of the year was to execute as many pitches as possible. I felt that if I did that, then the rest of that stuff would take care of itself."
Now an All-American, Hochevar was not considered one of the top players coming out of high school, even though he was a three-time All-State pitcher with a 1.97 ERA over 47 innings as a senior. He was drafted in the 39th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and there were not a lot of colleges seeking his services.
"I wasn't heavily recruited. I really didn't think I had a lot of options out of high school," Hochevar recalled. "Tennessee was my first phone call and my first official visit, and I knew it was the place for me and the place where I belonged ... It really felt like home."
Hochevar's comfort level with his new school and team resulted in an outstanding freshman year. While being used primarily as a relief pitcher, Hochevar posted a 6-5 record with a 4.64 ERA in 77 2/3 innings. Most notably, he struck out 73 and walked just 24 batters. He also began his college career with a streak of 22 1/3 scoreless innings.
Last year, as a sophomore, Hochevar was limited by injuries that kept him on the bench for eight consecutive weeks. Still, he managed to pick up four wins against two losses, while dropping his ERA to 2.86. He also continued his mastery of opposing batters, striking out 60 in 63 innings.
This year, Hochevar's domination has been complete. In winning his 14 games, he struck out 131 batters in 118 2/3 innings, while giving up just 42 walks. He also had three complete games en route to a 1.90 ERA. Of the 82 hits he allowed over the season, just 18 were for extra bases -- six home runs and 13 doubles.
USA Baseball recently named him as one of five finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given annually to the nation's top amateur baseball player. The winner of the award, presented by USA Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, will be announced in early July.
"I live and die with my fastball," Hochevar said of his best pitch that ranges from 92 mph to 95 mph. "I pitch off of my fastball. My best breaking pitch is my curveball. But day in and day out, I live off of my fastball."
But like any pitcher, having good stuff is not enough to win. Hochevar credits his father and a former pitching coach for making him the player he is today.
Hochevar's father, Brian, a former NBA player with the Denver Nuggets and San Francisco Warriors, was his high school baseball coach. The two continue to talk every day.
"It was awesome," Hochevar said of playing for his father. "I got rode the hardest ... but at the end of the day, it was really good to go home and have him look me in the eye and tell me that I had laid in on the line, that I busted my tail. ... I'm so thankful for that and for his wisdom that he's given me."
At Tennessee, Hochevar soaked up the advice provided by Fred Corral, who was his pitching coach for two years before joining the coaching staff at the University of Oklahoma this year. Hochevar said Corral helped him to learn the mental aspect of pitching.
"More than anything, I've become wise on the mound by becoming simpler," Hochevar said of his maturation as a pitcher. "I think that as young pitcher, I was into mechanics or thinking I needed to do this or that. I thought there was some hidden secret on why pitchers are good.
"But the more that I've learned and the wiser that I became, I learned that simpler is better. Now when I take the mound, all that I'm focusing on is executing as many pitches as possible -- executing more pitches than the other guy."
Likely a high pick in the upcoming Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Hochevar is not taking anything for granted. Before the season began, he had a conversation with Corral, who told him not to be satisfied with doing well enough to make draft.
"He told me ... if you work to get to the big leagues, you will have more urgency," Hochevar said. "That's been my approach. I'm working now to get to the big leagues. That was my urgency. That was my motivation. It wasn't the draft, it was to make it to the big leagues."
Dean Golembeski is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.
Luke Hochevar is tied for second place on UT's all-time single-season victory list. (Dave Martin/AP)