Side-arm approach saved Hanzlik's career with Cougars

In 27 appearances this season, Hanzlik is 2-1 with a 3.48 ERA and a CAA-leading 13 saves. (Picture by Al Samuels)

College of Charleston relief pitcher Michael Hanzlik was in jeopardy of losing his scholarship when Cougar pitching coach Matt Heath had an idea.

CAA Baseball Tournament

CAA Baseball Tournament

Who: UNC-Wilmington vs. College of Charleston

When: Thursday, 3:30 p.m.

Where: Brooks Field, Wilmington, N.C.

Webcast: CAASports.com.

Hanzlik, who started his collegiate career at Gardner-Webb, had a fastball that would routinely touch 90 mph. The problem for Hanzlik was that his fastball wasn't fooling any of the Cougar batters during fall practice.

As fall practice progressed and Hanzlik continued to struggle getting batters out, the chances of the Blythewood native earning a spot in the Cougars bullpen appeared to be remote. He had spent the 2013 season as a set-up reliever, making 22 appearances and earning a save. His earned was average was a robust 6.75.

"Michael had an injury last season and came back and really struggled to get guys out," said Cougars head coach Monte Lee. "He wasn't having a very good fall. We hit him all over the park and it just didn't look good for Michael for the spring."

Enter Matt Heath. Heath believed in Hanzlik's arm strength and felt that a tweak in his delivery might be the answer.

Before practice one day, Heath suggested that Hanzlik change his throwing motion and drop down and deliver the ball from more of a sidearm position. Hanzlik was open to the idea, willing to do anything to keep his spot on the team.

"I just wanted to make the team, I didn't care what I needed to do at that point," Hanzlik said.

Heath and Hanzlik discussed exactly where his arm position needed to be when he released the ball and from the first practice pitch in the bullpen, the senior knew he'd found his calling.

"It just felt totally natural," Hanzlik said. "It felt comfortable. It felt good. It felt like this was the way I was supposed to throw the ball. It was fun to throw from that position."

As he worked his deliver, Hanzlik began to see immediate results. Instead of getting hits, batters were unable to pick up the ball until it was too late.

The 6-4, 205-pound senior has become the Cougars' closer and is one of the top relievers in all of college baseball. In 27 appearances this season, Hanzlik is 2-1 with a 3.48 ERA and a Colonial Athletic Association-leading 13 saves, 12th nationally and just two saves shy of tying the school's single-season mark.

Take away Hanzlik's one bad outing when he gave up five runs to nationally-ranked Houston and his ERA plummets to 2.15. In his last six appearances, he has four saves and two wins. He has 32 strikeouts in 301/3 innings, averaging more than one per inning. Only former Cougars Brett Harker and Josh McLaughlin have been as dominate as Hanzlik this season.

"It's really a great story," Lee said. "He was literally on the verge of leaving the program and now he's among the best closers in college baseball. It just shows you his work ethic and his perseverance."

Unlike most side-arm pitchers who lose velocity on their fastballs when thy make the transition, Hanzlik's fastball has remained about 90 mph. It has made Hanzlik a legitimate pro prospect.

"To think about where I was during the fall and where I am now, it's a great feeling," Hanzlik said. "I'm not worried about playing pro ball. I'm focused on finishing out this season and getting us to a regional."

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