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Fitch's Mireault: patron saint for us fading baseball traditionalists

Groton — Ethan Mireault, your basic looking high school junior, has neither the experience nor the cachet, really, to justify carrying the hopes and dreams of us fading, crumbling baseball traditionalists. Sorry, Ethan. But you've become something of a patron saint this season.

Mireault, a left-hander who pitches at Fitch, comes from the longstanding Manual Of Crafty Lefties, who, given baseball's neurotic obsession with the radar gun, have been banished to witness protection. Mireault sinks it a little, moves it around, change speeds and throws to spots. All he's accomplished thus far: five wins, zero losses, a 1.70 earned run average. And he beat Waterford and East Lyme in the same week two weeks ago.

Ah, but college coaches might miss him if their eyes are affixed to the dreaded gun. Some of Mireault's offerings might not get zapped for speeding on I-95. He just gets guys out. Sources say that still counts, although probably not as much as spin rate anymore.

Mireault is the local example of a quiet, yet noteworthy, baseball trend: You needn't throw 104 to be effective, evidenced by the six no-hitter tossers in the majors this year: Joe Musgrove, Carlos Rodon, John Means, Wade Miley, Spencer Turnbull and Corey Kluber, who won't ever be mistaken for Aroldis, The Big Unit or the The Ryan Express.

"Cam (Fitch catcher Cam McGugan) puts a sign down and he throws that pitch to that spot," Fitch coach Brian McGugan said. "He keeps guys off balance. I asked Cam the other day 'how is nobody hitting him? I want to go get in the box against this guy.' Cam said he's got good tail, changes speeds and developed a nice changeup. He gets guys out."

Mireault and his persuasion are famous for offering hitters the "comfortable 0-for-4." As in: "I can hit this guy! ... But I'm not hitting this guy ... Why can't I hit this guy? ... How did I go 0-for-4?"

"You've got to put a lot of work into your off speed pitches," Mireault said. "You have to work on locating your fastball. Know where the umpire's zone is. Everything you can do and take every advantage you can. Find the right grip to the change. Find the right release point."

In other words: There's still room for pitching to be a craft and not points on a parabola over which front office eggheads get their jollies.

Why is this significant? Theories abound over why strikeouts are up and hits are down throughout the majors. Here's another: Defensive shifting has made hitting ground balls through the infield harder than ever, thus encouraging players to consider launch angle. If you can't hit it past them, hit it over their head.

All of which makes the Mireaults of the world more interesting. It's harder to lift a change sinking away than a heater that's straight as a string.

"As a hitter, the more reaction time the better," said McGugan, who is perhaps the best hitter ever in Fitch's estimable lore and legend. "But there's always that guy, the soft guy, who has your number. You're like 'I'd rather see somebody who throws a lot harder than this.' This day and age those softer guys are making out better. We got eight hits off (Waterford ace Connor) Podeszwa here. He's throwing 82-83, which is firm these days. But those softer guys can counteract you."

Mireault and the Falcons begin state tournament play this week. Here's hoping they hang around long enough for our patron saint to do his thing. And for a college coach to notice that underrated ability to induce soft contact and get guys out.

"Guys like Ethan will never be hard throwers. He's Jamie Moyer," McGugan said. "He's fully starting to understand what it means to be able to throw a change low and away and then go hard in. Hey, he's 5-0 with a 1.70 ERA. I know our league's not the greatest, but I still think we have some good teams here."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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