Kerry Doane came to East Tennessee State with designs on becoming a front-line college pitcher. It took awhile, but he’s certainly there now.
After three seasons as the Bucs’ starting shortstop, Doane is making a name for himself on the mound. The senior right-hander is 7-1 and has completed seven of the nine games he’s started, which leads the nation.
Doane is a big reason the Bucs (21-12, 10-5) are contending in the Atlantic Sun Conference in mid-April.
“I’ve been given an awesome opportunity here,” he said Tuesday. “I’m proud of this team and the way we’ve been playing. I just want to keep it going.”
Doane has been primarily the Friday night starter, charged with getting the Bucs in the win column in the opener of each conference series. It’s an important role for the psychology of any college baseball team, and the iron man from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., has been playing it to perfection.
“He’s one of the most well-conditioned athletes on our campus, and he just has that warrior mentality when he goes out to the mound,” said ETSU coach Tony Skole. “He knows if we don’t have to get into our bullpen on Friday nights, that’s going to help us win series. There are very few guys consistently finishing games at this level.”
Doane, who stands 6-foot and 185 pounds, eats up the innings with remarkable efficiency. With a fastball in the low 90s, he’s not a nibbler. He has struck out only 43 in 78 innings but has also issued just nine walks.
Last season, in 18 pitching appearances (12 in relief), he set a school record with an 8.33-to-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks.
“He’s not a very big guy, and the one thing that allows him to go deep into games is he doesn’t waste pitches,” said Kyle Bunn, ETSU’s pitching coach. “He continues to attack the strike zone. And he’s the first college pitcher I’ve ever coached who legitimately has four pitches that he can get guys out with.
“With that mix, it allows him to get some bad swings and attack hitters. He doesn’t strike a whole lot of guys out, but that doesn’t take anything away from him. If he’s striking out 10 or 12 guys, he’s eating up at least 50 pitches. He can get 10 or 12 outs with 25 pitches.”
Asked to describe his pitching style, Doane turns to tempo.
“I like fast pace and more rhythm,” he said. “I just like to go out there and work fast. That comes with being comfortable with my physical routine and having the arm strength.”
Doane credits Bunn for helping to mold him into the kind of starting pitcher he has become.
Bunn is in his second season on Skole’s staff after coaching stints at Alabama, Clemson and Mississippi. In his debut, the Bucs had a collective 4.42 earned-run average, their lowest since 1991.
Bunn reportedly has tutored 42 pitchers who have been selected in the major-league draft, including 15 who went in the first five rounds.
“Coach Bunn and I have a great relationship and routine,” said Doane. “It really works for me.”
In one of the more telling bits of praise, Bunn said two head coaches in the A-Sun recently told him that their pitchers are benefitting just by sitting in the dugout and watching Doane work.
“It’s not as easy as he makes it look,” said Bunn, “and there are a lot of things that go into it. He has the mental side of it as well as the physical conditioning. And his personality, he’s a team leader on and off the field.”
His physical stature – he looks like a shortstop -- makes Doane’s endurance on the mound even more intriguing. He has completed 75 of the possible 81 innings during his nine starts. (His only loss came in a six-inning stint at USC Upstate a month ago.)
Doane even came out of the bullpen and worked two innings against Tennessee last Wednesday night, then pitched a shutout two nights later against Lipscomb, with a career-best eight strikeouts. His earned-run average dropped to 1.96 for the season.
“It’s nice to send Kerry out there and know there’s a good chance he’s going to finish the game,” said Skole. “The fact he throws so many strikes, his pitch count stays down. I think the most pitches he’s thrown so far is 125.
“When it gets down to the seventh, eighth, ninth innings, I don’t say much to him. I know he wants to finish.”
Doane says he now comes to the park on Fridays with that in mind.
“At first I just wanted to keep our team in it,” he said. “I was working pitch by pitch and didn’t think about the whole game. Then everything just started to roll. Physically you’ve got to be in great shape, and mentally you’ve just got to keep pushing.
“Now I want to go all nine before I ever get to the field.”
Doane was recruited by ETSU as a pitcher out of Nova High School in Ft. Lauderdale. But the plan changed once he arrived, and he landed at shortstop.
“We really brought him here to pitch as a freshman, but we had some struggles in the middle of our infield,” said Skole. “He was our best defender, and once he took root at short it was hard to get him out of there.
“He got to pitch a little bit but didn’t get enough work to become the complete pitcher he is now. With the depth we have in the infield this year, we felt it was a good time to make the change.”
Doane was indeed a fixture at shortstop. He made more than 150 starts there over the last three seasons.
His cemented his spot in 2010, when he hit .335 with nine homers and 58 RBI to make the A-Sun all-freshman team.
Doane is admittedly much fresher now, his arm more lively. But does he miss being a shortstop and in the lineup every day? Not really.
“I’m still talking up the infielders, telling them what to do,” said Doane. “I’m still out there.”
Skole fully expects Doane to be a professional pitcher somewhere in the fall.
“He was not going to get drafted as a shortstop,” said Skole. “He’s getting a ton of interest now. With his durability and his velocity, and the quality of pitches he throws, he’ll be signed by someone.
"For our program, he's just been a special young man in a lot of different ways. He's a team guy and is great to be around."