Pitcher returns from injury to close

Ryan Kuehn comes back from Tommy John, switches from starter to closer.

When redshirt-junior pitcher Ryan Kuehn is not on the baseball diamond, he is just one of the guys – a normal 22-year-old who enjoys spending time with friends and a good laugh. But when the 6-foot-5-inch, 190-pound pitcher is on the mound, he is all business.

Following Tommy John surgery in his freshman season in 2010, Kuehn worked with Temple trainers to rehab to a full recovery. This season, Kuehn has earned coach Ryan Wheeler’s trust as a late-inning pitcher with the ability to either close out a game or keep a game close for the Owls.

“First and foremost, [Kuehn] has worked hard to get to where he is today,” pitching coach Brian Pugh said. “He has overcome some adversity and I think that as we watched him last year and in the preseason this year, we saw that mentality out of him to be a late inning guy. He has got a little velocity, some giddy up and an attack mentality and that’s what you want out of a late inning guy, somebody that is impervious to the situation.”

In 12 relief appearances in 2013, Kuehn has compiled a 1-2 record with a 2.60 ERA in 17.1 innings pitched. The right-handed pitcher has added six walks and nine strikeouts to his season total, while allowing just one hit since his appearance against St. Peter’s on April 10.

“All of last year was brand new to [Kuehn], but this year, he has grasped what coach Pugh has been teaching him and just came back with a lot more confidence in his ability,” coach Ryan Wheeler said. “We have seen it on the field, seen it in practice and we needed that role to be filled and we thought he could handle it.”

Kuehn is just one of a pitching staff of 15, and his approach is somewhat atypical.

“I do not think about striking out all three batters 1-2-3, but when I enter, I take the approach that I don’t want to walk any batters and I want to do whatever it takes to get out of the inning as quickly as possible,” Kuehn said.

Kuehn has enjoyed a successful season in the bullpen as a late-inning pitcher, a role he has grown and adjusted into well, Wheeler said. But the transition was not as easy as it initially appeared on the surface. Before the beginning of the 2013 season, Wheeler sat Kuehn down and spoke to the pitcher about why he was better suited for a position in the bullpen, rather than in the starting rotation.

“Well, I think it is everybody’s goal when they arrive at the college level to be a starter, but I have found my role in the bullpen,” Kuehn said. “I have a lot of confidence in myself when I enter the game and I know that I am helping the team, even if I am not in the rotation.”

As a pitcher who throws a fastball between 88 mph to 91 mph along with a newly developed slider, Kuehn is the best fit on the current roster to close down games, Wheeler said. He leads all Owls with three saves on the season.

“I absolutely want him in after I pitch because I know he is going to compete at the same level that I did or even more so,” redshirt-senior pitcher Dan Moller said. “I enjoy flipping the ball to him and because I know he’s going to get the job done. He is definitely fit for the job because he has a hard fastball and sharp slider. Those are two things you really look for in a closer.”

Known primarily as one of the hardest throwing pitchers on the staff, Kuehn has relied heavily on the slider that was developed this past offseason.

“I think now that he has developed his slider – something else to work off of his fastball – he has been much more successful,” Wheeler said. “Hitters will adjust to a fastball, but he has put something else into hitters mind with his slider.”

For the remainder of the season, Wheeler said he plans to keep Kuehn in the bullpen as a late inning and closer-type pitcher. As for his final season next year, there is a chance that he could earn a spot in the rotation if the opportunity is there for the taking.

“Could I see it? Potentially,” Pugh said. “I think it depends on how some other things pan out. If somebody else moves into that third starter spot so be it, but we have been happy with what we have seen from Ryan so far and don’t really see any reason to move him from the back end to a starting role right now. He is a guy that wants the ball at the end of the game and that is why he is successful with us.”

As of right now, Kuehn is not worried about his future role with the pitching staff. He is enjoying his current role as a closer this season and said he only hopes to see his success continue.

“I want to be known as a team player,” Kuehn said. “I want to do whatever I can to help the team win no matter what role I am in.”

John Murrow can be reached at john.murrow@temple.edu or Twitter @JohnMurrow12.

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