Increased Tempo The Key For Florida Righthander Jackson Kowar
GAINESVILLE, Fla.—The first game of the season started a bit slowly for Florida righthander Jackson Kowar.
Pitching on Saturday afternoon, a day after No. 1 Draft prospect Brady Singer threw seven innings against Siena without allowing an earned run, Kowar looked to produce similar results in front of a flock of scouts.
Siena wasn’t having any of that, and the Saints jumped on Kowar for four hits in the first frame, including a massive, opposite-field home run from senior first baseman Joe Drpich.
The issue stemmed from two things: Kowar wasn’t locating his fastball as well as he could and his tempo wasn’t as quick as it needed to be.
“I’m not sure if he’s thinking a lot when he goes really slow, but the quicker you go the less time you have to think and I think that definitely helps a lot,” said senior catcher J.J. Schwarz, who went 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs in the 10-2 win.
A few innings later, Kowar sped up the tempo and started to cruise. From the middle of the third inning through the seventh, Kowar shut down Siena entirely. He retired 14 straight batters with seven strikeouts, three fly outs and three groundouts. His final line read: seven innings, six hits, two earned runs, zero walks and 10 strikeouts.
“I think Jackson really settled in,” Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I think the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh was probably the best sequence of innings he’s put together as a Gator. It was sharp, his delivery was on point.
“He had some up tempo in his delivery, he sped up his delivery a little bit, the ball was coming out and had better angle, his breaking ball is so much more improved. I’m really, really pleased with how he threw the ball.”
Early in the game, Kowar’s tempo wasn’t quite as good. His arm dragged behind his body at times in his delivery, leading to fastballs up in the zone that got hit hard.
“There’s a huge difference if you watch the video between the first three innings and the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings in (his) delivery (and) tempo,” O’Sullivan said “(It's) something to build on and I talked to him when he came out to make sure he watches the video and maintain it because if he does . . . you’ve seen it. It’s just as good of stuff as you’re going to see at this level.”
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When he sped up his delivery later in the game, Kowar had more momentum down the mound, improving his timing and also helping to allow him maintain 93-94 mph fastball in his final inning. His velocity improved by a tick as the outing went on, sitting mostly 90-93 in the first two innings compared to a nine-pitch seventh inning that included six fastballs—each of which were either 93 or 94 mph.
In addition to the fastball, Kowar also threw a 75-79 mph breaking ball with with three-quarter breaking action and impressive depth as well as a plus changeup in the low-80s with excellent fade and arm speed that improved as the game contined. While the changeup has long been Kowar’s most dependable weapon, the breaking ball—which Kowar refers to as a slider but has velocity and break more reminiscent of a curveball—is something of a new development.
“Just being able to throw it for a strike was big,” Kowar said. “They were all over my fastball early so going into the game and going through the order a third time, having that third pitch to complement was definitely a big thing for me tonight and some thing that I’m looking to build upon."
With his fastball eventually playing as an above-average pitch, Kowar now has three average or better offerings with the development of his breaking ball. The pitch overwhelmed multiple batters throughout the game with swings and misses, and several righthanded hitters froze or buckled when the pitch was thrown inside and crept back onto the inside corner of the plate for called strikes.
“Realistically, a located fastball is still the best pitch in baseball,” Kowar said. “So even though they were all over it I knew that if I could still locate a fastball, I wasn’t scared to throw it. I was just leaving them up. But I think having that third pitch this year is nice when, let’s say my fastball command isn’t there early in the game, then I was able to dump in a lot of breaking balls for called strikes which was big to just get me through some of those innings where I was struggling early in the game.”
While having that third pitch is an obvious boost to Kowar’s repertoire, the key to his success seems to come back to tempo in the delivery
“I think his changing tempo today during the game, I thought that was a big step for him,” said Schwarz, who has caught Kowar for three years. “Hopefully he can continue that into the season. And I think if he does that, that will be a big stride to separate himself from his season last year.”