One of college baseball’s best relief pitchers is a big reason Washington is challenging for the Pac-12 title and likely to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament, but Troy Rallings has taken an unconventional approach to stardom.
It’s quickly apparent that Washington senior Troy Rallings isn’t your average ballplayer.
For starters, he might be the best closer in the country, a Dick Howser Award semifinalist who is second in the nation with a 0.89 earned-run average and leads the Pac-12 in ERA, saves, batting average against, and fewest runs and hits allowed. Nothing average there.
But beyond those accomplishments, which have helped propel upstart Washington to the verge of an NCAA baseball tournament berth, Husky coach Lindsay Meggs says (with admiration) of Rallings, “He’s really an independent thinker.”
Troy Rallings file
Height: 6 feet 2
Weight: 205 pounds
Hometown: Carlsbad, Calif.
High school: Los Alamitos
2016 stats: 28 games, 4-1, 0.89 ERA, 16 saves, 61 innings, 32 hits allowed, 7 runs, 6 earned runs, 12 walks, 60 strikeouts, .155 opponents’ average
That’s right after Meggs says, “When Troy first got here, he was kind of a handful. But I had known he was not going to be a typical kid. That’s kind of what we liked about him. That contributes to his competitive nature and his willingness to stay on course when others fall off the wagon.”
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Rallings calls pitching an art form and is happy to acknowledge he’s “a bit obsessed” with doing all he can to maximize his mastery of it. That includes yoga, meditation and a zealous adherence to proper nutrition. He’s an avid follower of mixed martial arts and considers baseball almost to be his own martial art.
“The concept behind the martial arts is constant improvement of the self and discipline and moving in the right way,’’ he said.
In echoes of James Earl Jones’ rousing speech in “Field of Dreams,” Rallings says that baseball has always been the centerpiece of his life, from the days his family had season tickets to Long Beach State to the trips with his mom, Kathleen, to visit every major-league ballpark.
“The game has always been the staple,’’ he said. “Divorced parents, in between a lot of different places, moving, good times, bad times, I look back and the one constant that has been in my life has been the game.”
Even at a young age, Rallings realized that baseball could be his ticket to college. And now he’s ensured that college will be his entree to pro ball, which has always been the ultimate goal.
Last year, as a junior, Rallings let pro teams know that he wouldn’t sign if he didn’t get drafted in the top eight rounds. He was seeking a bonus of at least $150,000, but more to the point, he said, he wanted to ensure that he didn’t get lost in the crowd of prospects.
“I wanted the opportunity to climb through the minor leagues, and not just be another guy,’’ he said. “I think I priced myself out.”
The A’s nevertheless picked Rallings in the 36th round, 1,088th overall, but Rallings stood by his convictions and returned to school. Meggs helped ease the decision by moving around scholarships to ensure that Rallings’ education — he’s a communications major with a minor in nutrition — was paid for. He had been on a partial scholarship.
And Rallings’ return has been a godsend to a Husky team that doesn’t overwhelm in any particular area except one: “For lack of a better way to put it, we’ve been good at winning,’’ Meggs said.
The Huskies have a 31-19 overall record and a 16-11 Pac-12 mark, putting them a game behind surprising Utah for the league lead. Washington closes the season with a huge three-game series at Utah beginning Friday. Baseball America has the Huskies safely in the 64-team NCAA field in its latest projections.
Rallings, meanwhile, has helped elevate his stock in the upcoming June draft with a dominating season that’s been far from typical for a closer. In 28 relief appearances, he has pitched 61 innings, and just one of his 16 saves has been one inning. The others have ranged from four to 11 outs.
Rallings has dabbled in starting throughout his career, but always seems to find his way back to the back end of the bullpen. Meggs notes that he has the two elements critical to an elite closer — the proper makeup, and a dominant out pitch. Or in Rallings’ case, two pitches: a slider against right-handed hitters, and a changeup against lefties.
The only thing Rallings is lacking, at least in scouts’ eyes, is radar-gun popping velocity. He tops out at 93 mph, but mostly sits 87 to 91.
“I play a deception game,’’ he said. “The life and action and the bad swings it causes tells me, in my mind, my sinker is more effective than a 95-mph fastball.”
True to his streak of independent thinking, Rallings sees his lack of reliance on blazing fastballs as a potential plus in his favor.
“Baseball, particularly at the professional level, is constantly evolving,’’ he said. “I don’t necessarily think velocity will be the name of the game for pitchers forever … at some point, sooner or later, the offense is going to adapt, and guys are going to be able to hit 98.
“It’s good for me. I feel confident about doing something different, something that separates me from a lot of people.”
Meggs says flatly that Rallings could pitch successfully out of “anyone’s bullpen at the Double-A level” right now. He sees a professional future for Rallings as a setup reliever who can be a matchup nightmare against right-handed hitters.
“This is a guy that can really pitch and really compete,’’ he said. “Someone is going to get a bargain, regardless of what round they get him in, and a potential big-leaguer.”
Rallings is amused when people tell him he’s really on a roll this season.
“No, I’m not really on a roll,’’ he responds. “I keep saying, ‘It’s business as usual.’ This is just what I’ve prepared for. It’s what I do.”