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Waterford's Ryan O'Connell finds a new home in Sea Unicorns' bullpen

Norwich — Norwich Sea Unicorns manager Devin Belenski doesn't talk to reliever Ryan O'Connell very often.

There's really no need.

O'Connell shows up at the ballpark, puts his work in and is ready to go whenever Belenski summons the Waterford High School graduate from the bullpen.

"He just comes here and does this thing," Belenski said before Thursday's Futures League game at Dodd Stadium. "He comes out there and knows what he wants to do — throw the ball down in the zone, see if guys can hit, and they haven't so far. Until someone makes an adjustment, I think he's going to be a big force in this league."

O'Connell, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound righthander, is one of Norwich's most reliable relievers, posting a 2-0 record with a 2.65 earned run average in six outings. In 20.1 innings, he's struck out 28 batters, walked eight and allowed just 13 hits.

In his best outing, O'Connell entered in the fourth inning against the Westfield Starfires on June 14 and threw a season-high six innings, allowing one run and two hits while striking out 11 and not issuing a walk. He earned the win.

O'Connell is in his first season with the Sea Unicorns. After pitching for Auburn (N.Y.) in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League last summer, O'Connell wanted to come to Norwich so he could be closer to home. Plus, former Waterford teammates and good friends Ben Jerome (Nichols College) and Connor Podeszwa (Tufts) also are on the Sea Unicorn roster.

Belenski checked out O'Connell and decided to bring him in.

"I knew he would be a good player just from watching video of him," Belenski said. "He just goes out there and throws strikes and competes. ... He's been the gold standard right now, him and Jordan Marot (Palm Beach State College) coming out of the pen. They both have a little bit of funky delivery to the plate, and they go at guys hard and attack the zone."

O'Connell began his collegiate career at Central Connecticut, sitting out as a redshirt. Unhappy with his situation there, O'Connell entered his name in the transfer portal and ended up at Division I St. Bonaventure in southwestern New York.

"I wanted to switch things up," O'Connell said. "My new school feels much more like home. I'm happy I made the decision, for sure. I love it there. It's nice and quiet and I've got a lot of time to focus and a lot of time to get my work done."

As a redshirt freshman, O'Connell had his share of growing pains while playing for a young, inexperienced St. Bonaventure team that won only five games. He was third on the team in appearances with 17, including two starts, and went 0-1 with a 9.85 earned run average.

O'Connell finished strong, not allowing any runs or hits in three of his last four appearances.

"I started off the year rocky," O'Connell said. "I started coming out of the bullpen. I think that's what I'm going to stick with for the rest of my career. I finally settled in and feel good."

One of O'Connell's goals this summer is to cut down on walks. He issued 28 free passes in 28.1 innings for St. Bonaventure.

His command has been much improved with the Sea Unicorns. He relies primarily on a slider, changeup and fastball, which reached as high as 94 during his college season. He also can mix in a curveball.

"I found a lot of success just changing up my mechanics toward the end of the college season, and I just ran with it here," O'Connell said. "I simplify things. My arm has felt great. I changed up my lifting routine. I've been throwing harder. It's really just mixing up pitches and trying to strike guys out."

O'Connell is unsure when he'll pitch next. But, he'll be ready when called upon.

Until then, he'll continue to go about his business.

"I'm not the most vocal guy, baseball-wise," O'Connell said. "I stick to myself and do my thing. Obviously, I love all my teammates and I talk with them. If coach needs me to go in, I'll go in. I think he understands that."

It's already been a memorable summer for O'Connell who met Red Sox legend David Ortiz, whose son plays for the Brockton Rox, on Tuesday before a road game.

"He was one of my favorite players growing up, so that was cool," O'Connell said. "He was watching his son in the batting cage. A couple of us saw him in the hallway. He's a really cool dude. He took pictures with us."

g.keefe@theday.com

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