Appel Transitions To Bullpen

Patrick Gustavson, Sports Editor

Mike Appel entered his senior year at Central Connecticut as a three-year starter who even got the nod at an NCAA Tournament Regional game as a sophomore in 2017.

Things were shaping up to be the same, but a freak accident altered his final season as a Blue Devil.

Prior to the season, Appel was helping out his fellow pitchers on a pickoff drill, acting as an infielder. He said he lost sight of one of the throws. After glancing off his glove, the ball hit him in the eyebrow. The incident led to stitches and a concussion, sidelining him for the start of the season.

While the team was playing in Maryland and Florida, Appel was eased back into action via a relief role. He tossed two scoreless innings against Navy before fanning seven in a six-inning relief appearance in a thrilling extra-innings win against Saint Bonaventure.

But during this time, fellow upperclassmen pitchers Tom Curtin, Brandon Fox and Patrick Mitchell established themselves as the Blue Devils’ weekend starters.

Appel has been used exclusively out of the bullpen since.

Appel called the transition “weird” and “hard to grapple with,” but has since embraced the role.

“I like coming out and getting an opportunity to pitch in a big spot in the game. I’m just happy to help the guys win,” Appel said.

Head coach Charlie Hickey said having a guy like Appel to bring in a big situation is part of the reason they have stuck with the move.

“Sometimes, you want your best guy pitching at the most important part of the game. If we have to stagger it a little bit at this stage, that’s what we’re going to have to do,” Hickey said.

In eight relief appearances, Appel has pitched to the tune of 2.66 earned run average (ERA), a major improvement over his 4.68 ERA from last season.

Entering the season, Hickey said Appel needed to improve on not having so many runners on base, whether via hits or walks.

“You look at his walks and hits per inning and you scratch your head. ‘How can you be successful with that many base runners?’” Hickey said. “And there are moments he throws pitches no one is going to hit and has pitched in some big spots for us. But he needs to be more consistent where we don’t have to sit on the edge of our seat every half inning he goes out there.”

Appel has since improved on that, drastically reducing the number of free bases he yields. Last year, he walked 42 batters in 59.2 innings. This year, he has walked just eight batters in 20.1 innings of work.

“I think just trusting that my stuff is good enough and not trying to be too fine with things. Just going in there and throwing the ball and not thinking too much,” Appel said of the improvement.

Hickey also cited an improvement in Appel’s rhythm, attributing it to the relief role. Appel also admitted the new role gives him less time to overthink pitches.

“I kind of like the fact I don’t have any time to think. I just go out there and come in when they tell me to,” Appel said.

Hickey said that things could change in terms of Appel’s role and Appel said he would be ready to go if called on to take the bump to start a game.