Brady Shipley is not afraid to ask for what he wants.
“He came to me and said, ‘I want to be the guy,’” Nevada Wolf Pack head baseball coach Gary Powers said. ‘”I want to start on Fridays.’”
Starting the first game of a three-game weekend series is not a role Powers hands out to just anyone who walks into his office. “Not a lot of guys have the courage and confidence to come in and ask to start on Fridays,” Powers said. “For him to do that, it says volumes about him.”
Shipley, the Wolf Pack’s starting shortstop as a freshman in 2011, went into Powers’ office with just 10.1 college innings on his resume. He allowed 18 hits in those rollercoaster 10.1 innings last year as well as nine walks and finished the year with an 8.71 earned run average. Those aren’t numbers that exactly scream out, ‘Hey, I’m your No 1 starter.”
That didn’t stop the sophomore Shipley at all.
“He (Powers) knew I wanted the role,” Shipley said. “I went in and asked for it. And he challenged me to go out there and get it.”
Shipley did just that in fall practices and in a month of workouts leading up to the Wolf Pack’s season opener last Friday afternoon in Albuquerque, N.M. against the New Mexico Lobos. The 6-foot-2, 170-pounder then made good on his promise to fill the all-important Friday role, allowing just two hits and no runs in five innings in a 5-3 win over the Lobos.
“Their kid pitched really well,” New Mexico coach Ray Birmingham said of Shipley. “We got beat by the changeup.”
The Lobos also got beat by a young right-hander with a world of confidence and competitiveness.
Shipley, who allowed eight hits and four runs in 4.2 innings in two starts combined for the Pack last season, immediately loaded the bases with two outs in the first inning against New Mexico and worked out of it. He then retired seven in a row through the third inning. In the fourth inning he walked the leadoff hitter and promptly picked him off first and fanned the next two hitters. In the fifth he struck out the side around two walks.
“Brady has a great amount of confidence and competitiveness,” Powers said. “His changeup is what got him out of trouble.”
“I was worried about our excitement and aggressiveness in the first game and that’s what happened,” Birmingham said. “He (Shipley) took advantage of that. We pounded a lot of balls in the ground and struck out swinging early in the count.”
Shipley, from North Medford (Ore.) High, did exactly what Powers wanted him to do, what Powers always wants his Friday starter to do. He set a tone of competitiveness and aggressiveness for the entire pitching staff for the weekend.
“For me, my personality is, ‘Just put me in any situation you want and I’ll get the job done,’” Shipley said. “I’m going to go out there and get after guys. I’m not going to be afraid.”
The Wolf Pack also wasn’t afraid of throwing a young pitcher who spent his freshman year fielding ground balls at shortstop out on the mound to open the season.
“When you see him throw, you’ll understand why,” Wolf Pack pitching coach Pat Flury said. “He has a power arm, with a good curveball and changeup and he just competes at another level.”
He’s everything Powers and Flury want in a No. 1 starter.
“He’s a guy who wants to go out there and pitch against the other team’s best guy,” Powers said. “That’s rare. He’s not afraid to go out there and step it up and compete.”
Shipley’s success on the mound isn’t surprising the Wolf Pack at all.
“I would have loved to use him more last year (on the mound),” Flury said. “He was one of our better pitchers last year but we needed him to play short.”
Last year was a whirlwind for Shipley that saw his baseball career change dramatically starting with one pivotal week in July 2010. Shipley, who had signed in January 2010 to play at Western Nevada College in Carson City starting with the 2011 season, came down to Reno in the summer of 2010 with his Medford Mustangs teammates to compete in the annual Josh Anderson Memorial Tournament.
After hitting .571 in six games and pitching a gem in the tournament title game at the Wolf Pack’s Peccole Park against the Oklahoma Travelers, Shipley caught the eye of Pack assistant coach Chris Pfatenhauer.
“He just came up to me and said that they were saving a scholarship and waiting for a guy like me to fill a spot,” Shipley remembered. “It was kind of a jaw dropper at first.”
The Pack saw Shipley at his best against the Travelers.
“The score was 0-0 going into the sixth and I had a no-hitter going,” Shipley said. “In the seventh I walked a guy and they got a bloop hit over second and I ended up losing (2-1).”
Shipley, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Wednesday (Feb. 22), was now headed to the Wolf Pack.
“We brought him here as a pitcher,” Powers said. “We knew he could play short but the reason we brought him here was because of his pitching ability.”
The Wolf Pack, though, needed a shortstop more last season than another arm. Shipley performed well, hitting a solid .287 with 19 RBI and four stolen bases. His breakout game at the plate came in a 10-3 win over New Mexico State, when he had two hits, scored three runs and drove in three and hit his only home run of the season.
Hitting in the ninth spot in the batting order, Shipley seemed to get better with each passing week. Through the Pack’s first 28 games he was hitting just .175 with three RBI and seemed to be a little overmatched against Division I pitching.
Over the final 27 games, he hit .384 with 16 RBI. He ended up hitting .344 in Western Athletic Conference games, which was second on the team to Brock Stassi’s .438. And he made just 11 errors all season in 46 games.
“When I came here I knew I’d have to fill that role,” said Shipley of the shortstop spot. “But that was fine with me. I just wanted to be out on the field.”
It also helped that Stassi, who pitched and played first base for the Pack, was his roommate.
“We talked a lot about it,” said Shipley, of balancing a pitching career with playing an everyday position. “He helped me out a great deal. He didn’t have to say much to me. He just kind of led me by example and I went out there and kind of followed him.”
Shipley, who didn’t get an at-bat in the Pack’s three games at New Mexico last weekend, will likely get most of his work this season at short and at the plate during the Pack’s weekday non-conference games.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” said Shipley of playing two entirely different positions like shortstop and pitcher. “When I pitch I have to give my arm time to rest and recover. But whatever the team needs me to do, I’m ready to do it.”
Shipley prepared himself for a full-time transition to pitching last summer while playing in Alaska.
“I threw over 50 innings in Anchorage,” he said. “It was a real good experience. It really helped me develop as a pitcher so when I came in here in the fall I was ready.”
“He went out there this summer and did a great job against a lot of top tier college players,” Flury said. “That really built his confidence.”
Flury has no doubt Shipley can handle the all-important Friday role on the mound.
“He’s going to flourish,” Flury said. “And he’s only going to get better and better next year and the year after the more he adds some weight and gets stronger and matures physically.”
Shipley, Powers said, will start Friday (2 p.m.) when the Wolf Pack opens its home season at Peccole Park against Utah Valley.
“Don’t forget he lost all of last year as far as his development as a pitcher goes,” Powers said. “He has a lot of natural ability but he still needs to learn how to pitch and how to pitch when he goes out there and doesn’t have his best stuff.”
“I’m excited,” Shipley said. “Last year when I got thrown out there (on the mound) I was kind of like, ‘Oh, gosh. This is a little tough.’ But I’m ready for it this year. It’s like I always said, ‘Just throw me out there and I’ll get the job done.’”