GSA Spotlight: Georgia Tech's Jackson Finley

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — Georgia Tech went into a series finale against rival Georgia in desperate need of some quality innings from its starting pitchers after getting just 5.2 innings combined with 11 runs allowed from Dawson Brown and Josiah Siegel in losses in the first two games of the series.

Fourth-year sophomore righthander Jackson Finley gave the Jackets exactly that in a 4-1 win over the Bulldogs.

He threw four innings, giving up two hits and one run with two walks and four strikeouts, throwing 39 of his 62 pitches for strikes. He also worked out of a real jam in the fourth inning, when Georgia scored one and threatened for more with two men on and one out. Strikeouts of Parks Harber and Cole Wagner got him out of it.

“I thought it was huge,” Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall said of Finley’s outing. “He pitched out of a jam in his last inning and that’s just good for him. I think it’s a good confidence booster for him. We’re asking him to do a lot, so just happy that he got out of that inning and then we can just kind of keep building from there.”

On its face, that outing doesn’t necessarily stand out, but it was precisely what Georgia Tech needed to set up the rest of the game, as relievers Ben King and Terry Busse took it home from there.

There’s a lot to like about Finley, starting with his performance through four starts. In 17.2 innings, he’s given up 13 hits and three earned runs with four walks and 11 strikeouts. His ERA sits at 1.53.

But beyond that, Finley just looks the part of a Friday starter. He’s got a solid frame at 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds and a four-pitch mix headlined by a low-90s fastball that will touch the mid 90s. And it only helps that he’s now two years removed from the Tommy John surgery that cut short his 2021 season and limited him in 2022.

The thing about it is that he can’t really be Georgia Tech’s Friday starter, though. He doubles as one of the Yellow Jackets’ best hitters — he ranks second on the team in average at .426 and leads the team with seven homers and 22 RBIs — and the coaching staff wants to give him a day off after he pitches. So Tech tried using him as the Sunday starter originally, then moved him up to Saturday last week against Notre Dame, which kept him out of the lineup Sunday.

Now that he’s gone through a few weeks of pulling double duty, Finley is learning more and more each time out about how he has to manage his body and all the other considerations that come along with being a two-way player.

“It has definitely been a little bit of a challenge, just keeping the body in shape,” Finley said. “It’s a lot more taxing, I’d say, but now that I’m starting to get more of a routine, I’m getting used to it and it’s getting a little easier.”

Finley hasn’t gone more than five innings or 82 pitches in any of his four starts, but that should change as time goes on. The coaching staff is being intentional about building him up so that he can be a workhorse once conference play is in full swing.

“That’s what we’re trying to get to, kind of taking it week to week, (and) 60-something (pitches) this week, so hopefully we can get him 70-plus, 75 and then just kind of start building him as we go,” Hall said.

Finley feels like that’s the way he’s headed as well.

“The pitch counts have been pretty steady now in the 60s and 70s, so as long as the arm keeps feeling good, I’ll be able to stretch it each outing,” he said.

A true Friday guy (even if he doesn’t pitch on Fridays) is what the team needs him to be, frankly, because circumstances have been such that Georgia Tech is really looking for answers on the mound.

This was always going to be an area of concern for the Yellow Jackets after they lost every pitcher who started more than four games last season and every pitcher who threw more than 39 innings.

Since this season started, the injury bug has also bitten. Logan McGuire, a high-ceiling righthander who might have actually turned out to be Tech’s Friday starter at some point this season, went down after throwing just 1.1 innings in a start two weekends ago against Tennessee Tech. Additionally, lefthander Camron Hill has been out since the second game of the season, and while his initial role was going to be as a reliever, it further hindered the team’s depth.

Neither of those injuries are expected to be season-ending at this point, but it does mean it’s on everyone else to help keep things afloat until the unit is back at full strength.

Finley is certainly doing his part.

Photo credit: GT Athletics/Danny Karnik is your online home for college baseball scores, schedules, standings, statistics, analysis, features, podcasts and prospect coverage.