In the weeks since the school year finished up and in the dog days of summer that have taken hold of Southcentral Alaska, a Midwestern transplant that finds himself 3,500 miles away from home is thriving on the mound.
Dallas DeVrieze, a freshman from Moline, Illinois, has been no slouch on the hill. Currently, DeVrieze is ranked second in the Alaska Baseball League in ERA, with an impressive 1.66 earned runs given up per nine innings.
He is also ranked second in the league in innings pitched with 38 total, and when it comes to putting batters on the bases, DeVrieze isn’t very obliging. He’s only given up seven walks this summer. It was enough to be named to the ABL American League All-Star team, which will be in action today at 4 p.m. when the All-Star game starts at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage.
“I think I’m just comfortable,” DeVrieze acknowledged. “We’ve got a great group of guys that have made it easier to play with. Summer ball in general is good, our team’s laid-back, we like to have fun, and we’re used to going out there and having a good time. When you’re comfortable, that’s when you perform the best.”
Oilers head coach Kyle Richardson said DeVrieze’s greatest asset is his consistency, something that he shares with many of the sport’s greats.
“I was listening to Derek Jeter talk before the All-Star game the other day, and they asked him what is the biggest reason you’ve been able to be as good as you have,” Richardson said. “He said it’s my ability to know what to expect when I show up to the yard, and my teammates knowing what to expect when I show up.
“That’s what Dallas brings us, it’s that stability of knowing what we’re getting when he’s on the hill.”
Living with host parents Tom and Karen Dearlove of Soldotna for the summer, DeVrieze immediately showed coach Richardson and general manager James Clark why he is a hot commodity. He’s a lefty.
“He was the first guy off the plane, and we see this kid walking up,” Richardson recalled. “We thought that must be Dallas, so we go over to greet him and talk to him. I noticed right off the bat he’s a left-handed pitcher.
“He’s a weird, quirky dude. He’s funny, he’s goofy, he’s all the things you’d associate with a lefty.”
DeVrieze put his talent to use right away. June 9 against the San Francisco Seals, DeVrieze pitched six shutout innings and gave up just two hits while striking out seven, capping his performance by striking out the last five. Despite all those strikeouts, he threw just 55 pitches.
“I was really comfortable and guys behind me were making great plays,” DeVrieze recalled.
His good tenure with the Oilers began that day, but his hot pitching began before he even stepped off the plane.
In the NCAA Southern Conference tournament in May, Division I Appalachian State University saw its season come to an end with a 2-1 loss to Georgia Southern, but the Mountaineers didn’t go out quietly. DeVrieze pitched his first career start in the loss, going 4 1-3 innings and giving up just two runs.
Some folks will say a left-handed pitcher is a secret that many teams covet, which is possibly related to the theory that young left-handed players are quickly put into the training cycle to become a pitcher, while all the right-handed kids are being tested in other infield and outfield positions.
The only thing is, DeVrieze wasn’t immediately set aside as a pitcher.
“I remember the first game I pitched was because we were getting beat so bad,” he said. “It was fourth grade and my coach pulled me out of center field in the middle of the game when we were down, and told me to pitch, and from then on I was in the rotation.
“I guess left-handed pitchers are always wanted, so I started pitching when I was younger and I loved it and thought it was fun. I think that just drew me in when I was younger and I stuck with it.”
DeVrieze said he knew he would be a pitcher for life when he realized he wasn’t a good hitter.
“I wasn’t like a big asset at the dish, so my coaches in high school kinda pushed me to pitch,” he said. “It was like, ‘We’ll let you worry about just the one thing.’”
So how has he only walked seven batters this summer? DeVrieze attributed that to something that scouts don’t typically look for in a pitcher.
“I don’t throw hard enough,” he said. “I can’t get away with just blowing by people, so I have to rely on throwing strikes. If I don’t throw a strike, I’m gonna get shelled.”
DeVrieze said he tops out at 85 mph on his fastest throws, but usually sits around the low-80s. Because of that, he has worked on his accuracy of throws, and he’s been able to hone a pretty good cutter. Coach Richardson added that that mindset is what has kept the Oilers in games this year.
“He throws that in a 2-0 count,” Richardson said. “No one throws cutters in a 2-0 count except him. So the ability to mix different pitches is why left-handed pitchers are so valuable.”
DeVrieze will get his next start on the hill against the nondivision Anchorage Glacier Pilots at 6 p.m. Monday at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.