March 4, 2010
BY AUSTIN BAIRD
Thanks to a cut fastball and a sinker, McCray's ERA through two starts is 1.46. That's down from 5.16 last season.
"We've gotten a lot of good starts out of our guys, but he's been our most reliable guy to date," UT coach Todd Raleigh said.
After allowing just one run on three hits against Xavier in his first start of the season, McCray again gave up three hits and a run in seven innings at No. 10 Oregon State.
Those two new pitches have certainly helped McCray, but it hasn't been easy.
"Getting comfortable with a new pitch takes a lot of reps and a lot of work," said Raleigh. "He's done that, and he's enjoying the benefits now."
By focusing on controlling the location and movement of pitches, McCray's velocity has slowed slightly. But he's also confusing hitters and getting more ground-ball outs.
"With the ball low in the strike zone and the ability to move in two directions across the plate, it keeps batters guessing and forces a lot of ground balls," Raleigh said.
So far, the Vols (4-3) have played well behind McCray and the rest of UT's pitching staff.
Outfielder Chris Fritts even made ESPN with his diving catch on the warning track against Oregon State.
"It was incredible," Raleigh said. "You see catches, you see great plays, but you don't see catches going away from you that much.
"You've got to be strong all over, and I think we've done a good job in the outfield -- and the infield and catching for that matter. So far, our defense has been outstanding."
While McCray's forte is his ability to force ground outs, he struck out the side in the fourth inning against the middle of Oregon State's lineup Sunday.
"He used to be a guy that would get up into the 93- and even 94-mile-per-hour range pretty often," Raleigh said. "He's more of a ground ball guy now...but that is a reminder that he can still strike guys out."
Numerically, the early weeks of the season have been great for McCray. But one of the biggest questions remaining for McCray is how he will respond to frustrating situations throughout the season.
He'll get that chance this weekend, after his three-hit performance last Sunday resulted in a 1-0 loss with a series victory on the line.
McCray views the loss as motivation.
"Of course it's frustrating," McCray said. "But we got the same amount as hits as them...theirs just came at a better time.
"Maybe that's my fault, so next time I want to go out and do everything right, no mistakes."