OMAHA—South Carolina's Jonathan Taylor was fighting to throw from a lower arm slot since high school. But that was when he was playing middle infield.
Taylor pitched and played second base at Wilson High in Florence, S.C. He says he threw from a lower arm slot when making throws from second and dropped down when he threw his changeup from the mound. Otherwise, he pitched overhand, and his coach implored him to throw overhand on his infield throws as well.
"I felt comfortable throwing like that, and it seemed to be a pretty good throw most of the time," Taylor said, "but he harped on me throwing over the top and making an accurate throw. And I threw a changeup from a lower slot.
"When I got to junior college (at Florence's Darlington Tech JC), I got in my first 'pen and my coach said, 'You can't do that in college, they'll pick up on it.' So instead of changing the changeup, I changed the fastball and slider."
From sidearm in juco ball, Taylor has gone even lower as a senior at South Carolina. He and pitching coach Jerry Meyers have tweaked his mechanics from last season, when he went 3-2 with a 3.49 ERA in 28 innings. His slot is a bit lower, he's added some front-side funk and hides the ball better in the back. The result is a deceptive, submarine delivery that has made Taylor the most valuable middle reliever in the country.
"He really stressed mechanics. It just happened to work out that where I was most consistent mechanically, I hide the ball a little bit more," Taylor said. "I didn't even really notice it that much until I had some people telling me in intersquads and my catchers telling me I had a little bit movement than last year and the year before. I'm just thankful to coach Meyers that he's worked with me. He's a great pitching coach."
Any coach—pitching or head coach—would like a middle reliever who can do what Taylor can do. He's thrown in 47 games now, four away from the Division I record set in 2005 by Florida submariner Connor Falkenbach. He's appeared in five straight games twice this season, and threw in every weekend series game five times in Southeastern Conference play.
Tuesday night, he was one of the big differences in South Carolina's 7-1 victory over Virginia. He got a 1-2-3 double play on his first pitch to work out of a bases-loaded, fifth-inning jam. He needed just 33 pitches to get 13 outs and pitched a career-high 4 1/3 innings, yielding only one hit and one walk.
At 7-1 with a 1.17 ERA, Taylor has served as a one-man bridge to closer Matt Price, with 69 innings pitched, which ranks third on the staff. South Carolina's bullpen may not be as deep as those of Vanderbilt or Florida—the other College World Series team sitting 2-0 in its bracket—but Taylor and Price stand toe-to-toe with any bullpen in the country on their own.
"It's unorthodox," Gamecocks coach Ray Tanner said of Taylor's delivery. "I saw a big league team bring in a submarine guy the other day, and he was throwing 82-83 (mph), just like our guys. Usually you only get one look at something so unorthodox, and it's hard to square them up. Tonight was different.
"I think it's a mix of his movement and deception, but certainly there is deception, with a fastball that's sinking and a slider that sometimes is almost rising, plus he has a changeup he throws to lefthanders. His two-seamer will run in there, and he's sawing guys off at 82-83, and it's frustrating."
Submariners remain a rarity in the major leagues, though their fraternity seems to be growing in an era of greater bullpen specialization. A 22nd-round pick of the Mariners, Taylor hopes to join their ranks, but until he does, he'll remain a force here in the CWS for a Gamecocks team that has shown few flaws through its first two games.
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