The complete package: Bobby Korecky combines heart and talent to lead Michigan''s staff

BY BENJAMIN SINGER
Daily Sports Writer
Published April 15, 2001

In Bobby Korecky"s senior year at Saline High School, the two-time all-stater went head-to-head with the undefeated Drew Henson and Brighton High School. Korecky tossed the 3-0 shutout, and even singled in what turned out to be the game-winning run in the first inning off the future Michigan quarterback.

Paul Wong
Michigan doesn"t often need to dip into the bullpen when Bobby Korecky takes the mound.<br><br>JEFF HURVITZ/Daily

That game was part of a dream season for Korecky, in which Saline fought its way to the State Championship. It lost 2-1 to Midland, who also knocked out Brighton in the semifinals.

"That"s something you never forget," Korecky said. "Going through a state tournament and going against someone like Drew Henson that"s something kids dream for.

"(Henson and I) hang out quite a bit. We always bring it up. It"s something you have to bring up. But all the respect to him. He"s a great athlete."

Henson has since moved on, committing himself to a life in baseball as a prospect in the New York Yankees" organization. Korecky is still working toward the dream of getting drafted, as he continues his career as the ace of Michigan"s staff.

Going for nine

The bullpen for Michigan hasn"t needed to bother showing up for Friday games. Junior Bobby Korecky has been his own middle reliever, set-up man and closer.

When the staff"s ace goes out to the mound each Friday to start the weekend series against a Big Ten opponent, he usually goes for nine. Korecky has pitched a conference-leading six-consecutive complete games, including all four of his outings in Big Ten play.

By staying around the plate, Korecky (5-2, 2:13 ERA) can keep his pitch count down. With quick innings, pitching for the whole afternoon ceases to be too tall a task.

"When you"re (throwing strikes) and you"re getting guys out with one or two pitches, the infield making great plays, it"s very easy," Korecky said.

"Before you know it, it"s the fourth inning and you"ve only thrown about 40 pitches."

Michigan coach Geoff Zahn doesn"t usually plan on yanking Korecky, certainly not any time early in the game. The two times Korecky did not finish a start were his first two games of the year when he went 6.2 and 7 innings, respectively.

Aside from rarely needing to replace Korecky, the pitcher doesn"t make it an easy task for the manager.

"He"s funny because I"ll ask him in the seventh "How are you holding up?" and he"ll give me a funny look like, "Are you kidding me? I"m not coming out," " Zahn said. "He"s very similar to a pitcher I had at Pepperdine who"s now pitching in the majors, Randy Wolf (of the Philadelphia Phillies), as far as his competitiveness and his desire to win. He has that refuse to lose mentality."

Refuse to lose and refuse to exit the game. Korecky is a little possessive about his starts. He is willing to give way to the bullpen if he has to, but he likes to stick around to the end.

"Once you start a game, you get into that mental frame that you can get everybody out," Korecky said. "It"s your game when you start it and you want to go as long as you can."

Changing pitches

Everyone has highlighted different reasons for Korecky"s success. Zahn is impressed with his intensity on the mound. Pitching coach Steve Foster cites his work ethic during the week as he studies the history of the hitters. Freshman catcher Jake Fox talks about the effectiveness of his pitches, the likes of which he hadn"t seen in high school and doesn"t see too much of in college.

But it took a little maturing for Korecky at the next level before he hit his stride.

"His freshman year he"d get into jams and he would say "I"m just going to blow it by you" because that"s what he did in high school," Zahn said. "He"d end up leaving balls right over the middle of the plate. He was really just a power pitcher."

Once Korecky learned to mix up his pitch selection a little and keep hitters off balance, he started to turn into the formidable pitcher he"s proven to be this year. In Big Ten play last season, he pitched to a 1.95 ERA and completed four of his five conference starts, as he led the Wolverines with a total of five at the season"s end.

"Coach Zahn worked with me so hard on that. I need to be throwing in the right location and then the job will get done," Korecky said. "That"s one thing I can"t talk about enough is it"s not how hard you throw. (Sophomore) Tim Leveque doesn"t have a blazing fastball but he has an ERA under .50 which is just ridiculous."

Even so, Korecky still relies heavily on his fastball, as it is his out pitch. He estimates that in his win against Indiana, he threw just three sliders and the rest changeups and fastballs. He"s not making batters miss, but he"s getting them out.

"I haven"t gotten a tremendous amount of strikeouts, but the grounder has come from my fastball," Korecky said.

Major league dreams

Foster, who pitched for three years with the Cincinnati Reds and also scouted for the Devil Rays, said Korecky is a top-notch pitcher and could go to the majors someday. As a right-hander with a 6-foot and 175-pound frame, a fastball that tops out in the low 90s and a basic three-pitch repertoire, conventional wisdom says it may be hard for him to find a niche in the pros. But that doesn"t mean Korecky is giving up hope.

"I think if I continue pitching the way I can I might get drafted how high I don"t know," he said. "My height is always an issue. I just go out there and do the best I can. That"s the only thing I can control. You can"t really control what the scouts feel. There"s always a surprise in June."

Already, Foster has been working with Korecky on a splitfinger fastball to help him later in his career. He doesn"t need it so much right now, as the fastball and changeup seem to do the trick in the Big Ten.

Whether his future includes the Major Leagues or not, Michigan is happy with the production it gets out of him. With Bryce Ralston still recovering from his Tommy John surgery and fellow senior tri-captain Nick Alexander struggling with a 1-3 record and 5.60 ERA, Korecky has emerged as the No. 1 starter.

"To have a Friday starter who does that and has the complete games he has, you couldn"t ask for more out of a starting pitcher," Zahn said. "He"s really developed into a good pitcher over the last year and believes in himself and believes in the pitches that he has."