Magnificent Heat Lures Scouts To Damien Magnifico

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MALIBU, Calif.—The scoreboard at Oklahoma's L. Dale Mitchell Park became a featured attraction this fall every time Damien Magnifico took the mound. That's because the scoreboard displays pitch velocities, and Magnifico can light up a radar gun like nobody else in college baseball.

Sooners coach Sunny Golloway said Magnifico regularly hit triple digits on scouts' radar guns in the fall, topping out at 103. In his season debut at Pepperdine during Week One, Magnifico pumped 96-99 mph heat with minimal effort.

"There's always going to be a buzz when he's on the bump," Golloway said after Magnifico recorded his first career save against the Waves. "I'm glad their board doesn't have the miles per hour on it, because the places that have that, everybody's going to be looking at that, and we've got it at home. But it's been pretty amazing what he's been able to do. He'll be fun, and he'll be good for college baseball, I think. And he'll be good for Oklahoma baseball too—don't get me wrong. I'm glad he's in our dugout and not the other dugout. I wouldn't want to be behind and have to face him, I'll tell you that."

Magnifico, a 6-foot-2, 187-pound righthander who transferred from Howard (Texas) JC after last season, has flashed premium velocity since his high school days in Mesquite, Texas. The Mets drafted him in the fifth round in 2009 based on a quick arm that produced 94-95 mph fastballs, though his command and secondary stuff were considered works in progress.

Magnifico elected to attend Howard rather than sign, but he missed all of 2010 after developing a stress fracture in his elbow about a week before the season began. When he returned to the mound for last season, Magnifico pitched mostly at 88-92 mph, and his command and secondary stuff continued to lag behind. He pitched just 21 innings, went undrafted and transferred to OU.

He spent last summer in the New England Collegiate League, where he began to unlock his potential once again.

"I was just working hard. This past summer, all I did was work out and throw, just play ball, I had nothing else to worry about," Magnifico said. "Just working out and refining my mechanics a little bit, and everything just kind of clicked."

In Norman, Magnifico reunited with Jack Giese, who had helped recruit him to Howard before leaving to spend two years as the pitching coach at short-season Hudson Valley in the Rays system. Golloway hired Giese as his pitching coach this past fall when Tim Tadlock and Mike Bell left for jobs at Texas Tech and Florida State.

"It's awesome—I love the guy," Magnifico said. "He knows it, too. That's why he gives me so much crap. It's awesome. He'll say anything to try to get me riled up—that's how he is. He just has fun with you."

Giese had helped Magnifico develop a promising changeup during his first fall at Howard, but he said he lost his feel for the pitch after his injury. He worked to regain it with Tadlock last fall and started to make progress with it.

"Then I got with Giese, and he taught it to me in four pitches again," Magnifico said.

Against Pepperdine, Magnifico threw a couple of changeups at 78 mph with good tumbling action. Since Giese instructed Magnifico to scrap his slider and work on learning a cutter, the changeup has become his go-to pitch when he needs to give hitters a different look from his fastball.

"It's a good pitch. It keeps guys from cheating on his fastball, because that's what's going to have to happen when you throw that hard," Giese said. "We're working on a cutter, and he should be able to bring that out in a couple of weeks."

The fastball, of course, will always be Magnifico's calling card. It has become a much better weapon for him than it was a year ago and during his high school days, not only because its velocity has climbed but because his command of it has improved significantly.

"His mechanics have gotten a little bit more under control, if you will," Giese said. "He's less violent with his body, therefore he's able to repeat a lot better. I think that's simply the reason you're going to see a lot better command out of Damien. He's able to repeat that arm slot and release point because he's smoothed out his mechanics."

Giese points to two adjustments that have helped Magnifico most. The most important thing, he said, was shortening his stride to help him improve his rhythm. He has also dropped his arm slot just a bit, which Giese thinks has helped quicken his arm speed.

Magnifico is still getting comfortable at the back of Oklahoma's bullpen. His control was poor during his second outing of the year against Hartford, when he gave up two runs on two hit batsmen, two walks and two wild pitches before stranding the bases loaded, preserving OU's 9-6 win. Two days later, he worked a scoreless inning by recording back-to-back strikeouts to strand the bases loaded again.
"We just want him to have some success, coming off the injury," Golloway said. "That's the key: He's got to build some confidence."

Magnifico thinks he'll be fine if he can just relax and throw, instead of trying too hard to aim.

"The more I learn, the more relaxed I get," he said. "But being able to come here and work with this staff and this team, it's awesome. Everybody's behind me. If I do wrong, they come pick me up. That's what's so great about this team: We're all just gelled together, so we all just pick each other up. It's a really good experience."