COLUMN: WKU’s young pitching duo impressing early

Zach Greenwell

Young pitching staffs don’t always work out.

Even when they’ve got all the talent in the world, young pitchers can’t fake the poise and experience that comes with being a veteran.

But so far, WKU’s duo of Tanner Perkins and Justin Hageman has thrown that convention to the wind.

Perkins, a sophomore, and Hageman, a true freshman, have combined for a 9-3 record in 2011.

That’s 56 percent of WKU’s (16-7, 5-1 Sun Belt Conference) total victories — not bad for the replacements of graduated seniors Matt Ridings and Shane Cameron.

Head Coach Chris Finwood said before the season that he wasn’t concerned with the youth of his pitchers because even though they didn’t have a lot of starts, they’d thrown plenty of innings.

That seems to be the case for Perkins (5-1, 2.45 ERA), who’s tied for first in the Sun Belt in wins and has suffered just one poor outing all year.

As for Hageman, the much-heralded hurler from Hopkinsville High School, this season was supposed to be a trial by fire.

Instead, the freshman that turned down the major leagues before coming to campus has hardly been singed.

Hageman’s (4-2, 3.09 ERA) given up team highs in hits (36) and walks (16) this season, but he’s also shown a knack for getting out of trouble by overpowering people.

Part of that comes down to talent — he’s struck out 33 batters in 35 innings — but Finwood said after Saturday’s win at Florida International that it’s also about maturity.

“Mature” might not be a word Finwood expected to throw around with these pitchers before the season started. But then again, maybe it was.

They’re the most important reason the Toppers have won eight of their last nine games and sit atop the Sun Belt standings. You can usually find someone on your roster to step up at the plate, but it’s nearly impossible to make solid pitching appear out of thin air.

It’s also important not to leave senior Brian Edelen out of this discussion. Edelen has claimed the Sunday starter role from sophomore Taylor Haydel, who was the first of the youth movement to hit some bumps in the road.

But it’s probably a good thing to have a veteran at the back end of the rotation just to provide some leadership. It hasn’t worked out badly for Edelen either, who’s 3-0 in five starts.

Like Ridings and Cameron last year, Edelen will be gone in just a few short months.

But Perkins and Hageman aren’t going anywhere, unless of course a pro team comes calling with a much better offer.

Both pitchers still have plenty to learn. It’s also still early in the season, and last year showed that success can fade fast.

But given that the duo has passed every test thrown its way so far this season, it looks like WKU has locked up its one-two punch for quite some time.