Every great pitcher throws one pitch that becomes his calling card. For Virginia Tech’s Chris Gerard, it’s his cutter the knifes in on a right-handed batter and subtlety moves away from lefties.
What makes Gerard’s cutter even more special? It’s a pitch that wasn’t even in his repertoire six months ago.
“I actually just developed that pitch this fall,” Gerard said. “I just started throwing it. With [pitching] coach [Ryan] Fecteau, it was just an idea. I just started working on it, played with some grips, and now it’s my go-to pitch.
“I’m probably most comfortable with that pitch right now even though it’s my newest pitch.”
It wasn’t just an idea that Fecteau solely created for Gerard. Fecteau stresses to his players to always work on different ways to improve yourself. A lot of times that means the pitchers tossing ideas between each other to find out if a certain grip or pitch might work better for someone else.
“It’s not really from me,” Fecteau said. “The pitchers on the staff, we’ve got a really good relationship with everybody. It’s almost like every guy is trying to help each other. The guy that actually started throwing a cutter first was Ian Seymour. It kind of evolved to some other guys trying it in practice. Gerard started messing around with it. I thought it would be a good pitch for him, it just took off really quick.”
When freshmen come to college, they are often unrefined and really only throw two pitches in a fastball and some sort of curveball or slider. Oftentimes this results in Fecteau developing a change up for the younger pitchers, and that was the initial focus for Gerard, until he discovered the cutter.
“Everybody is always trying to work on different pitches,” Fecteau said. “I think the change up is usually the pitch that most guys grasp when they get into college. That was the main focus, to be honest, in the fall was him getting a good feel for the change up. He’s got a lot of different pitches that he can throw. A lot of stuff that moves different ways. I was pretty impressed with how good [the cutter] got, not necessarily how it developed, but it’s become a really good weapon for him now.”
Gerard has used the cutter and the other pitches in his arsenal to come flying out of the gates in his freshman season. The southpaw currently holds a record of 2-0 with a 0.35 earned run average. He’s given up just one run in 26 innings pitched, and struck out 25 batters while only walking eight over that time.
If not for a coaching change, though, fans in Blacksburg wouldn’t even get to see Gerard on the bump. Gerard was originally committed to Maryland before deciding to join head coach John Szefc and Fecteau at Virginia Tech.
“When the switch happened, I knew it was the best move for me,” Gerard said. “It was a pretty easy decision at that point.”
Szefc and Fecteau recruited Gerard for the better part of three years. It can be a tricky situation at times when a coach moves to a new school, but oftentimes a few recruits will end up following if they’re mostly about the coaching staff and not the school.
“A lot of it had to do with his relationship with Ryan [Fecteau],” Szefc said. “Young pitchers that are recruited by pitching coaches, they have strong relationships with them.
“The other thing is him coming here gave him an opportunity to pitch in the ACC, one of the top conferences in the country. It wasn’t like it was a bad place to come by any means, for a lot of reasons.”
Szefc joked that Fecteau and Gerard are like a father and son duo because of how much time they spend together in every aspect. Even so, getting Gerard to come to Blacksburg was a massive step in continuing to establish the mantra of good pitching and defense.
“I thought we were very honest and open about what we thought he could be, how he could impact the program,” Fecteau said. “When we ended up leaving Maryland to go to Tech, he was the first guy that we got a hold of… we thought he would be a really good fit for building this thing and stepping in right away. He’s pretty much done everything that we’ve expected.”
“It worked out well for us, and we’re just glad he’s here,” Szefc said.
After several no decisions to begin the year, Gerard’s official coming out party came on the road against No. 7 Florida State. The freshman shut down the powerful Seminoles’ lineup, tossing seven scoreless innings, only allowing one hit and striking out 10 batters. Gerard carried a no-hitter through six innings and retired 13 batters in a row at one point.
Gerard earned several honors for his masterful performance, including ACC Pitcher of the Week, and NCBWA National Pitcher of the Week. In that game, Gerard’s cutter was as sharp as ever, but he also commanded the strike zone with three other pitches, almost a rarity for college pitchers.
“He was able to throw every single pitch pretty much in any count,” Fecteau said. “The odds of that happening are really slim with a guy on a given outing. Usually you have two, maybe three pitches if you’re lucky and you go with what’s working. He happened to have four pitches working that day. That’s why he was able to be so successful.”
It was Gerard’s first start against an ACC opponent and an indication of the type of success he can have in the league. Still, the young pitcher will get tested through the gauntlet that is ACC baseball, and he is human after all.
“This year will be challenging for him because he’ll face some really good teams,” Szefc said. “You’re not going to pitch against a tougher lineup than Florida State at Florida State. He kind of started at the very top of the mark there because it’s a difficult place to pitch, but North Carolina, Clemson, and all the teams we play. There’s no easy lineups there.”
It’s during those times that Gerard remembers to take an extra breath. This isn’t high school baseball anymore where dominant pitchers can get away with mistakes in the zone.
“You have to be a lot more persistent, a lot more consistent,” Gerard said. “Sometimes when I get into jams I just have to step back and tell myself to focus up. In high school, if you’re not focused you can still get outs, but here if you’re not focused the game can spiral on you.”
Standing at 5-foot-10, 175-pounds, Gerard isn’t the biggest guy on the team and his velocity (currently sitting in the upper 80’s) will continue to climb throughout his college career in addition to the way he changes speeds and moves the ball. More than anything, though, baseball is a mind game.
“He really doesn’t get too high or too low,” Fecteau said. “He stays even-keeled. He’s got a pretty good pitch-to-pitch mentality. I think it really just comes down to him executing pitches.
“It’s never easy. There’s going to be days where he’s not going to have a feel for certain pitches and he’s going to have to get by an ACC lineup with one or two pitches that he’s going to have to really execute.”
It’s during those days when Gerard can fall back on his newest weapon, the cutter that has shaped him into a promising starter for the Hokies for years to come.