Former Jag helps pitch Oklahoma to new heights
It was quite the spring in Norman, Oklahoma for former Jefferson Jaguars pitcher-turned Sooners starter Jake Irvin.
His second spring on the mound for the Big XII baseball team was one of a lot of growth that included a match-up against Brendan McKay, Louisville’s Player of the Year candidate in an NCAA Regional played in front of the Kentucky baseball fans in May.
“I definitely learned a lot,” Irvin said continuing to mature as an NCAA pitcher under new pitching coach Skip Johnson who was promoted to head coach after the season.
What made that final start standout even more was that he gave up two earned runs on three hits and two walks. He also struck out four, leaving the game in the eighth inning with runners on the corners and no outs with the game tied 1-1.
After the college season, Irvin was invited to take part in USA Baseball’s College National Team training camp made up of those draft-eligable in 2018 and 2019.
He joined OU teammate Steele Walker as invitees to the national program facility in Cary, North Carolina June 19-25 on a tryout basis and was a last-minute addition. Five Sooners made it onto the summer team in program history.
The camp roster was trimmed to 28 and that team is in the midst of a college summer league with games in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. As part of the camp Irvin threw three innings, which is typical for starters, during a five-game series against Chinese Taipei. The successful showing including five strike outs, two walks and no hits or runs among the 10 batters he faced.
He was recalled to the national team, pitching on July 11 at Camden Yards in Balitmore, Maryland against the Future’s League All-Stars in a tune-up for the 41st USA versus Japan Collegiate All-Star Series. Irvin picked up his first win of the summer throwing four innings allowing four runs on five hits with five strikeouts.
The Sooners finished 35-24 overall with a 12-11 Big XII record while Irvin was the No. 1 pitcher in the rotation compiling a 6-3 record with 75 strikeouts and 29 walks over 71 1/3 innings in 13 starts. He won the Feb. 17 season opener over Long Beach State, 6-2 allowing one hit over seven innings with a career-best 10 strikeouts in his 10th collegiate start.
As a freshman in 2016 he earned a spot on the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team making 15 appearances (nine starts). His 6-2 record was tied for the fifth most by an OU freshman with a 4.47 ERA over 56 1/3 innings.
Irvin was a three-year letter winner for coach Jim Gess at Jefferson earning All-State honors and was a Mr. Baseball finalist in 2015. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 37th round in 2015.
“The place was packed and going nuts with McKay throwing,” Irvin said, confident to extend hi
s sophomore season.
Not only was Irvin throwing in front of a large crowd but at the oppositions park turned the pressure up a couple notches. “At that point you’ve got to just trust your preparation. It’s the same 60 feet, six inches. We were the underdog with not a lot to lose so our focus was attack, attack, attack,” Irvin explained.
Being part of Big XII baseball is something Irvin explains is quite fun, given the quality of the opposition and the venues they get to work in.
“It’s been fun to pitch against talented batters in the conference plus the atmosphere at the big parks is amazing. It’s always a blast to go there (Dodgers Stadium in California),” he said. “The competitive nature in the conference really attracted me to Oklahoma.”
Sooners baseball has a strong history winning two NCAA National Championships in 1951 and 1994 while making it to the College World Series 10 times, most recently 2010.
The team has gone through the ebbs and flows of a major college program including the promotion of Irvin’s pitching coach, Skip Johnson to manager after the 2017 season concluded.
“I have a lot to look forward to in my junior year with (Johnson) moving up,” Irvin, a Human Resources Management major said. “I could tell he was more than qualified to be a head coach so we’re all happy. Excited for him to finally get the opportunity.”
Between his freshman and sophomore seasons in Norman, Oklahoma, Irvin worked on refining the command of his fastball before an injury force him to spend some time away from throwing pitches. He developed and utilized breaking pitches like a changeup and slider more often to mix in a third pitch to keep batters off-balanced. “Adding that third pitch was a major key for me,” he said.
In addition to the mechanics side of the game, Irvin said he wasn’t the youngest player in the dugout anymore and as a result embraced more responsibility. “You teach the guys on the field and I took more of a leadership role and was able to contribute off the field as well.”
Follow sports editor Jason Olson on Twitter at @SunSportsJason.