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College Baseball: Catawba’s Tuttle throwing summer heat

ASHEBORO — John J. Tuttle, a Catawba pitcher who is spending his summer hurling heat for the Asheboro Copperheads, allowed two runs in six innings on Tuesday — easily his worst start of the season.
You read that correctly. His worst start — not his best.
“It actually did feel like a bad game,” Tuttle said with a chuckle. “But it was actually a great game. We won it 3-2.”
The Copperheads have gotten used to winning games in the Coastal Plain League whenever Tuttle jogs to the mound. He fired six shutout innings opening night, and he has yet to let up.
He’s made 10 appearances, seven of them starts, and his record is 8-0. Tuttle’s stat-line looks like a long string of typos. In 52 innings, he’s allowed three earned runs — yes, three — and no homers. Twice he’s been the league’s pitcher of the week. He pitched two scoreless innings in the league all-star game.
Hitters, and that’s using the term very loosely, are batting .172 against him.
The 6-foot right-hander throws for a strong team, and that’s part of his success. He has serious confidence pitching inside to guys swinging wood bats, and that’s also part of it. The other part of the euqation is that Tuttle is smart and talented, a potential pro.
“It’s been a good summer,” he said modestly. “I’m fortunate to be playing for an unbelievable team. Guys are making all kinds of plays defensively, and they’re getting me some runs early. I’ve had leads and I’ve been able to go after hitters.”
It’s not like a genie rubbed a bottle, and Tuttle suddenly popped out. He was a good enough pitcher in high school at A.L. Brown that Charlotte recruited him. He’s been good enough in college that he’s started conference games three straight seasons for strong Catawba teams. He’s started 36 times for the Indians, and he’s put up a 21-10 record with 198 strikeouts in 238 innings.
Still, what he’s done this summer has been mind-boggling because the Coastal Plain League, filled with exotic names like the Columbia Blowfish, Gastonia Grizzlies and Fayetteville SwampDogs, is a top-flight summer league. The lineups Tuttle is facing in his travels across the Carolinas and Virginia are well-stocked with Division I hitters. The opening-day lineup he shut down included two guys from Arkansas and one each from Akron, Bradley and Charleston Southern.
“John has the pitches to get hitters from any level out,” Catawba coach Jim Gantt said. “He’s got good velocity on the fastball — 89, 90, 91 — but the thing that separates him is that he’s got command of three pitches. His slider and changeup are quality pitches. He can throw both for strikes in any count, and nothing he throws is straight. He’s got a whole lot of movement. Everything goes down or cuts.”
Tuttle’s changeup dives. His slider darts. His fastball is a two-seamer, a sinker that produces groundballs, rather than one of those four-seam risers favored by pitchers looking to rack up big strikeout numbers.
“Guys can usually make contact against John,” Gantt said. “But it’s not very often that it’s firm contact. And I’ll take a groundball over a strikeout any time. You might get an out — or two outs — with one pitch.”
Tuttle explains that his repertoire isn’t different than what he threw at Catawba in the spring. He’s just been sharper, more dialed in, more focused.
“I got off to such a good start that it built confidence,” Tuttle said. “I’m just hitting my spots right now. I’m hitting spots better than I ever have.”
Tuttle gives credit to Hofstra catcher Matt Reistetter, who caught most of Tuttle’s games before signing a free-agent contract with the Washington Nationals. Tuttle worked with Penn’s Austin Bossart in Tuesday’s win that came in front of a New York Mets scout.
“I’ve been able to get on the same page with all my catchers,” Tuttle said.
If Tuttle stood a little taller and threw a little harder, he would’ve been drafted in June. He was eligible for the first time since high school, and Gantt thought he might be selected, but he wasn’t.
Tuttle’s Catawba’s teammates Nick Lomascolo (who had finished his eligibility) and Chris Dula (a junior) were drafted and signed, but
Tuttle said he didn’t lose any sleep.
“I was very happy for Nick and Chris and hope I see them on TV some day,” Tuttle said. “I wasn’t disappointed. I really wasn’t worried about the draft either way because I didn’t have any control over it.”
Assuming good health, Tuttle will be expected to lead Catawba’s staff next spring, and he could hear his name called by a big-league club in the 2014 draft.
“There’s no reason John can’t have a great senior year,” Gantt said. “There’s never been any doubting his ability.”

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