By: Cole Bradley
ORLEANS, Mass- This past spring was one that right-hander Nick Wallerstedt (Arizona State) would’ve certainly liked to have back.
He accumulated just two outs total in his five appearances, giving up four runs on eight hits and four walks.
“You definitely hit a low point in those situations,” Wallerstedt said. “You obviously want to do good and you want to go out there and throw and help your team win. I wish I had that season back, but you can’t go back.”
For a pitcher’s psyche this is gut-wrenching — the type of feeling that can eat away at confidence and create infinite ‘what-ifs.’ Wallerstedt definitely had these thoughts after this past season at ASU, and they looked to be creeping back following his first Cape League outing on June 20.
After watching his Orleans Firebirds put eight runs on the board on Opening Day against Harwich, Wallerstedt made his way into the game looking to shut the door in the ninth.
“I guess I was a little nervous,” Wallerstedt said. “I was in my own head and making the situation bigger than it was.”
He walked in the lone Mariner run of the ballgame, laboring his way through a 37-pitch inning in which he enabled two free passes and hit a batter.
It appeared as if his misfortunes from a second year in Tempe, Arizona had followed him all the way across the country, but then something clicked.
“I’ve just calmed down and thrown strikes,” Wallerstedt said. “My stuff has felt really good, the best it's felt in a while.”
Since his wild debut, Wallerstedt has yet to give up a run, pitching to the tune of an astronomically low 0.73 ERA in eight appearances since opening night. His performance hasn’t gone unnoticed either, earning him a spot on the 2021 Cape League All-Star team along with three of his Firebird teammates.
The kind of turnaround he’s made in such a short time is something that can’t be quantified, but it’s something that he hasn’t thought too much about. It’s helped Wallerstedt hone in on developing confidence in himself and his stuff.
“I don’t put too much into the All-Star selection but having it work out has been really good,” Wallerstedt said. “Especially after this past year at ASU, it hasn’t been the greatest. It’s nice to have a set coaching staff that believes in me.”
In just a week, he went from unconfident to unhittable, and after garnering four whiffs in his first outing, Wallerstedt has hovered around six per appearance. While swing and miss hasn’t been his end all be all, it’s only supplied him with more faith in his abilities.
Aided by mental skills coach Jay Banfield and his ‘Mind-Up’ pregame routine, Wallerstedt has been able to focus and control his breathing, which has helped him clear his mind. In turn, high leverage situations have looked easy for him.
“Depending on the situation, I can be calm or hyped up,” Wallerstedt said. “The different breaths from Jay have helped me a lot. We do ‘Mind Up’ pretty much everyday and I’ve found a set technique that has really helped me.”
Wallerstedt has also shown the ability to go multiple innings late in games, going at least two innings on four separate occasions. Over his last two outings in particular, he has gone four innings, surrendering only three hits and no walks against Wareham and Cotuit.
While the sample size is small, opponents are 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position against Wallerstedt, struggling to create run-producing opportunities in the first place.
In a league where bullpen roles aren’t defined, Wallerstedt has earned a closer-type spot on the Orleans staff, and that hasn’t been by accident. Given his reliability and success so far, he’s on a short list of arms competent enough to get three outs with almost no trouble.
He believes that he can carry over the confidence built during a summer against the top collegiate talent in the country into any type of role next spring with the Sun Devils.
“I’ve talked with Willie Bloomquist and the coaches a little bit, they really like my stuff and really believe in me,” Wallerstedt said. “I told Willie that I want to do whatever I can to help the team win, I’d be fine with closing, starting, long relief. I just want the innings.”
The near seven months that separate this summer from a third spring campaign for Wallerstedt are certainly in the back of his mind. Regardless, the man they call “The Grim Reaper” has put his last spring behind him and is looking ahead to next year.
“I just need to stay confident in myself, knowing that I can throw well in front of a big crowd is key,” Wallerstedt said. “I just gotta believe in myself.”