Archive for Wednesday, May 23, 2012

KU ace Duncan proves value

May 23, 2012

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He pitched for a small, all-boys Catholic high school in San Francisco, had a fastball that might not get arrested for speeding on I-70 and didn’t have any scholarship offers.

Really, now, was flying all the way to San Francisco to watch a right-handed pitcher from Stuart Hall High throw a single bullpen session a wise way for Kansas University baseball coach Ritch Price to use part of his recruiting budget?

Um, yes. Penny for penny, Frank Duncan has been one of the wisest investments Price ever has made. Duncan threw the bullpen of his life that day and hasn’t stopped impressing Price and everyone else associated with the KU baseball program ever since.

A sophomore, Duncan (6-7, 2.81) earned All-Big 12 second-team honors and twice this season was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Week. He ranks third in the conference in innings (1052⁄3), fifth in strikeouts (92), sixth in opponents’ batting average and has walked just 31 batters.

A mutual friend put Price and Duncan together. Charlie Johnson, Duncan’s high school basketball coach, pitched for Price at Menlo College in 1983.

“I finally twisted his arm into coming out here to see Frank,” Johnson said by phone from San Francisco. “We saw him throw in the oddest spot in the world, this funky old baseball field. We were able to stand right behind the fence that the catcher’s heel was butting up against. Frank had the best bullpen a kid could have.

“It was a magical few minutes. It was kind of jaw-dropping. He was hitting all the spots.”

Duncan’s so-so velocity scared away potential suitors, but Johnson remembered his old coach saying, “This kid’s got a college curveball right now.”

Price visited the Duncan home that night and said he had a locker with Frank’s name on it if he wanted to be a Jayhawk. He did, even though it meant walking on without a nickel of scholarship money.

Price figured with Luke Bradford supervising him in the weight room and pitching coach Ryan Graves teaching him to drop his arm slot a little, Duncan could gain the required velocity on a fastball complemented by a curve, slider and change-up. Price was right. Duncan’s heater, clocked in the low-to-mid 80’s in high school, has exploded into the 90’s.

“It’s insane,” Duncan said of the difference lifting has made. “The ball feels lighter. My core, my arms and my legs are much stronger.”

Duncan thanked his hoops coach for the connection.

“As he was leaving for Kansas, he asked me what my favorite number was,” Johnson said. “I told him 19. And that’s why he wears 19.”

No. 19 is KU’s No. 1 starter and he’ll be facing a hard-hitting Texas A&M; team that has won seven in a row in a Big 12 championship first-round game at 4 p.m. today at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.

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