From the day he arrived on Oregon State’s campus, Grant Gambrell’s stuff has been unassailable.
But the transition to college baseball isn’t always a smooth one, and Gambrell was no exception.
The imposing 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-handed pitcher threw just 15⅓ innings — all in relief — as a freshman last season as the Beavers won the Pac-12 title and qualified for the College World Series. Inconsistency plagued Gambrell, a highly-touted recruit from Clovis, California’s Buchanan High.
After multiple strong outings in preseason intersquad scrimmages, Gambrell received a pair of starts as OSU kicked off its 2018 slate in Arizona. He flourished Sunday against Ohio State, striking out 12 with no walks in seven shutout innings.
The career-best performance earned Gambrell another start this weekend — weather permitting — as the second-ranked Beavers (8-0) are set to host Hartford (1-3) for a four-game nonconference series. Friday’s opener is scheduled for a 4:05 p.m. first pitch at Goss Stadium.
“It definitely felt good just getting my confidence back,” Gambrell said prior to Tuesday’s practice. “I knew my physical abilities were fine, it was just all my mental stuff. I had a couple mental blocks last year and I feel like I’m doing a better job with that side of things.”
Gambrell’s first start of the season was reminiscent of his freshman struggles. He gave up two runs on four hits with two walks and exited midway through the fourth inning due to a mild arm cramp.
Last week’s outing was the polar opposite as Gambrell allowed just five singles in seven spectacular innings.
“He had this aura on the mound,” catcher Zak Taylor said. “There was a confidence to him and he was able to throw all three pitches for strikes. When you can do that with his kind of stuff, it’s pretty dangerous.”
Gambrell successfully mixed his overpowering fastball and changeup to keep Ohio State’s batters off balance. His breaking ball, a curve/slider hybrid, was also effective.
With total command of all three offerings, Gambrell showcased why he was rated the nation’s No. 146 overall prospect for the class of 2016 by Perfect Game.
“I think for every player, they are trying to validate their existence with their teammates,” OSU pitching coach Nate Yeskie said. “And I think for him, he had done that through scrimmages at times but I never felt like he really did that during the season.
“That (outing) probably validated his belonging in his own mind. Because his teammates probably always felt like he was a guy with good stuff.”
A two-way prep standout, Gambrell was heavily recruited by the Pac-12’s top programs, including UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Washington. The final decision came down to UCLA and OSU, Gambrell said.
The atmosphere in Corvallis won Gambrell over.
“It was just a family, and that is what drew me here,” he said. “I didn’t meet another coaching staff like them.”
Luke Heimlich and Drew Rasmussen acted as mentors to Gambrell a season ago as the Beavers led Division I with a team ERA of 1.93.
Rasmussen, who will not play this year as he recovers from a second Tommy John surgery, is also a burly, hard-throwing righty. He was a natural person for Gambrell to emulate.
“Those guys really took me under their wing and kind of told me what it was like and what to expect,” he said. “It helped me out tremendously.”
Entering the 2018 season, Gambrell informed Yeskie of his desire to start. He would pitch out of the bullpen if necessary, but Gambrell was going to do whatever it took to be a member of the starting rotation.
Last week’s outing certainly helped his cause with Pac-12 play just around the corner.
“Watching him improve so much mentally is just something that we are all happy to see,” teammate Adley Rutschman said. “Because he is one of those guys that we’ve always had hope in and have always known that he’s going to be a great player someday. Just seeing that development and that maturity from him is going to be big for us as a team.”