Fresh start for Daly as UH opens season
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Since he was 7 years old, when his first pitch sailed over the backstop and his second knocked the catcher into the home plate umpire, Matt Daly has always wanted to be a pitcher.
"Ever since then, it's turned into a passion," the University of Hawai'i junior right-hander said about pitching.
Daly, primarily a relief pitcher his first two seasons with the Rainbows, will start tonight's season opener against UH-Hilo. Game time is 6:35 p.m. at Les Murakami Stadium.
"I can't wait to get on the mound to toe the rubber and go after hitters as best I can," Daly said.
Despite his success in the bullpen, Daly said he wants to start and coach Mike Trapasso said he's earned that right.
"He has to stay aggressive as a starter," Trapasso said. "He tends to want to pace himself and tend to nibble and lose some of his aggressiveness. He has to pitch as a starter like he does out of the bullpen."
Daly agrees. When Steven Wright was moved into the starting role his junior year in 2006 after being used primarily in the bullpen his first two years, he took the aggressive approach. He ended up being named Western Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year in helping the Rainbows reach the NCAA Regionals. Wright also parlayed his success into being the 56th overall player taken in the draft in 2006 by the Cleveland Indians.
"You really can't pace yourself," Daly said. "If you pace yourself, you're going to be too fine and try to be too perfect. That's the biggest thing I'm going to focus on, not pacing. If I can get six, seven strong innings or even if it's just five, it doesn't matter, as long as I can go out, compete, put up some scoreless innings and let the offense do some work."
Daly has shown glimpses of dominance. He pitched a one-hitter with nine strikeouts against the Vulcans last season, taking a no-hitter into the ninth. He got the elusive no-hitter during the summer, pitching for the Hyannis Mets of the prestigious Cape Cod League.
"That was unbelievable doing that," Daly said. "I felt that game I had a focus from the first inning on. That's the biggest key to being a starter, having to focus every inning you go ... I kept going after hitters."
With a fastball that touches the 90 mph range, Daly said his focus is throwing all of his pitches for strikes with the hope of keeping his pitch count low.
"In a perfect world, we'd like to throw three pitches, strike everybody out," Daly said. "But obviously, it's not that way so it's just going out and getting them out any way you can because an out is an out."
Daly said his key is keeping focused, something he learned after reading a book by Nolan Ryan, his favorite big leaguer.
"A lot of his book is about the mental side of baseball," Daly said. "That's the biggest thing in baseball is having that mental game before you go out, knowing what you're going to do. Taking a deep breath between pitches and getting into that mind focus."
Growing up in Southern California, Daly was an Angels fan. He took notice of a pitcher of his similar 5-foot-10, 185-pound stature in Angels reliever Francisco Rodriguez (listed at 6-0, 195).
"He's a smaller guy and he's up there and throwing the ball hard," Daly said. "You could tell every pitch he was competing so hard and that inspired me more. Whatever my role, starter or reliever, I want to go out with intensity like that."
As much as he relishes the opportunity to start, Daly has a view of the big picture. He might flourish as a starter, but he could be needed out of the bullpen. It is too early to tell what could happen with a young pitching staff.
"I'm willing to do anything to better help this team get wins on the board to get us to the ultimate goal, going to Omaha (for the College World Series)," Daly said. "If I can help in the starting role, hopefully, I can stay there. If not I'll go out and pitch my best out of the bullpen."
The Rainbows are 28-9 in season openers, winning their last three. They are 106-19 all-time against the Vulcans, having won the last 13 meetings.
The Rainbows, picked to finish fourth in the WAC in a preseason poll of coaches, will play five teams ranked in Baseball America's Top 25: No. 8 Michigan, No. 9 Arizona State, No. 11 San Diego, No. 13 Long Beach State and No. 18 Fresno State. UH also plays UC Irvine, which is No. 26 in Collegiate Baseball's Top 40.
Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at email@example.com.