The Huskies have gradually worked Feole, the prized 6-foot-1, 194-pound, lefty, back into the weekend rotation after he missed the first couple of weeks of the season because of a shoulder strain he suffered back in January.
Feole worked three innings in his first start back against Illinois and allowed two runs in three innings. He tossed 4.1 shutout innings against Texas State, and once again, he wasn't extended last weekend against Michigan State, where he struggled with command and allowed five runs and seven hits in four innings.
With American Conference play beginning this weekend at Houston, the Huskies desperately needed Feole to be back on his game, keep his pitch count low and give them a lengthier start. And he did all the above Friday night with an impressive performance in a 2-1 win over the Cougars.
"I thought he looked like himself," UConn coach Jim Penders said. "Even in the first, when he had a rocky inning, I thought he was present in every pitch, and that was a step forward. There have been times the past few weeks where he was just kind of out there wrestling with his command, but not tonight.
"We've been really cautious and smart about bringing him back [from the shoulder strain]," Penders continued. "And in between these starts, until now, we weren't doing what he normally does. I mean, when he pitches during the week, he's out there blasting away. He lets it rip between outings. He's gotten over the hump the last week and a half and he's now letting it rip, you're seeing the result of that."
It's not hard to see why Feole relies on a specific approach when it comes to preparation. When he's on the mound, he's always locked in and works with a fast and deliberate tempo. Hitters constantly are out of sync against him, and part of that buildup is going all out in the week leading up to his next start. So, when he was working back from that injury and not going all out in his training, Penders summed up his situation pretty well with a car reference.
"It's hard to command the fastball on Friday night if you're not letting the Ferrari out of the garage during the week," Penders said about Feole. "He's a putting the gas pedal all the way down kind of guy, and if he's going 50 percent on Wednesday, it's not going to work out for him on Friday in most instances."
Mason Feole showed why he's a premier prospect. (Kendall Rogers)
Feole didn't have perfect command against the Cougars -- he finished the night with five walks. But he sprinkled three of those walks throughout six innings of work with the first frame being his most challenging.
In the first, Feole walked UH leadoff hitter Grayson Padgett before buckling two-hole hitter Derrick Cherry on a filthy 76 mph curveball. Feole got UH stud slugger Jared Triolo to fly out before intentionally walking hard-hitting Joe Davis. The lefty then coaxed a fly out to end the first with a pair of runners on base.
He hit the cruise control button the rest of the way. Feole proceeded to retire 14 of the next 15 Houston hitters he faced. The lefty struck out the side in the second inning on a trio of 91 mph fastballs, while he showed his ability to throw the secondary stuff for strikes in the third by punching out two of four hitters he faced that frame with a nasty 76 mph curveball. Two innings later, Feole went right back to the fastball to tally strikeouts on a pair of 92 mph fastballs.
"Having him back on Fridays certainly helps on a day like today. He hadn't gotten that win yet and tonight he got the win," Penders said. "It's always a good feeling when we get off the base and know he has the ball that night.
"I thought for the most part he had command of his fastball and secondary stuff," he continued. "He will have a batter here and there where it's four-straight balls for no rhyme or reason, but then he'll just come back and strikeout three guys in a row. That's just kind of how he operates sometimes."
Feole, who struck out eight, walked five and allowed one run (unearned) on three hits in seven innings, showed the makings of two strong pitches and another, the changeup, that continues to make strides.
Feole didn't deviate from the norm throughout his outing from a fastball velocity standpoint. He consistently sat 89-91 mph with the offering early, while actually touching 92 on several instances in the middle innings. His fastball command wasn't impeccable, but he threw it for strikes for the most part at the top and bottom parts of the zone.
"I thought the curveball was really good and he didn't really need the changeup much tonight," Penders said. "I thought the fastball command was really there for him, too. It's not where it can be and it's not where it's been in the past, so it's somewhere in the middle. It's a heck of a lot better than it has been, though. But overall, I thought his breaking ball was really good."
His 73-76 mph curveball was a consistent weapon against the Cougars. In addition to striking out the side with the pitch early in the game, Feole's curveball had good depth and some late action on it. His ability to command the offering tonight was what set him apart from the start I saw against Southeastern Louisiana last season. He also showed a changeup at 79-81 mph. He threw the changeup twice early in the game but didn't throw it much the rest of the way. It's a pitch he admits continues to improve and could be used more often as the season progresses.
Mason Feole had to be great with UH's Lael Lockhart matching him. (Kendall Rogers)
"It just felt really good to be back out there and back on Friday night and getting a win," Feole said. "That was a really fun game and there was a lot of energy out there. I felt like I was attacking the zone and making hitters as uncomfortable as possible. I was executing pitches and hitting my spots and just really competing -- that was pretty much my main focus."
"I think I'm starting to command my changeup a lot more now," he continued. "I have better command of all three of my pitches, and a lot of that just has to do with working with Coach MacDonald and my coaches and our catchers. That's been the story of my year so far -- get those pitches working and just go out there and compete."
With Feole back and throwing well, Connecticut will be a dangerous team to watch the rest of the regular season and potentially heading into the NCAA postseason. It has weapons at the back-end of the game with righty Jacob Wallace and CJ Dandeneau leading the way, while the rotation is in good shape as well.
As for Feole, he continues to be one of the more unique pitchers in college baseball. He works incredibly fast and has interesting arm action. And there are times when his command can be a little erratic. But on times like Friday night, where he's, for the most part, hitting on all cylinders, he's one of the best in the business.
He's UConn's Ferrari, and he's finally out of the garage for good.
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