MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If you look up the leaders in innings pitched in the Big 12 so far this season, the name you’ll see at the top of the list is West Virginia’s Blaine Traxel. If you then search for the national leaders in complete games thus far this year, the name you’ll see at the top of that list is also Blaine Traxel.
Traxel (4-1, 2.03 ERA), a side-arm throwing fifth-year senior from California, has been nothing short of spectacular through the first five outings of his WVU career.
After suffering a loss in five innings against a formidable Georgia Southern lineup in his first start, Traxel bounced back to put forth the following stat lines in his next four outings: 9 IP, 1 ER at Arizona; 9 IP, 10 K at VCU; 8 IP, 8 K vs. Minnesota; 9 IP, 1 ER at UNC Greensboro.
That’s three complete games over a four-game stretch, with an eight-inning eight-strikeout performance sprinkled in, as well.
“The secret’s always the same for me. It’s just attacking hitters, getting guys out early, and just trying to get deep into games with a chance to win for the team,” Traxel said in an interview with Gold and Blue Nation this week.
Even without overpowering velocity, Traxel has outclassed opposing hitters.
“I’ve been in college long enough. I’ve been pitching pretty much my whole life. I have an understanding of who I am, what I am,” said Traxel. “I just try to get guys out, feed the defense. If I get a strikeout – I’ll strike guys out if I can – but I’m more just trying to get to contact and get late in games.”
Traxel’s three complete games this season ties the previous single-season-high of any WVU pitcher since the program played its first year in the Big 12 in 2013. The single-season school record in that category through the first 10 years in the conference belongs to Harrison Musgrave, who went on to pitch in the MLB. Musgrave tossed three complete games in WVU’s first year in the Big 12.
Traxel’s trio of nine-inning outings on the mound are more than the total amount (2) of complete games thrown by all WVU pitchers since the start of the shortened 2020 season. No Mountaineer hurler was able to go the distance last season.
“In the past, I’ve done both starting and relieving. And coming here, we knew I was just mainly going to be a starter. So, I think just knowing that, coach Mazey had the intent of having me going deeper into games,” said Traxel, who added he believes his experience and pitching on Saturday has given him a slightly longer leash with the skipper.
Alek Manoah is the last West Virginia pitcher to throw multiple complete games in one season.
With Traxel leading the charge, Randy Mazey’s pitching staff is outperforming last year’s in almost every category.
Statistical comparison between the 2022 and 2023 WVU pitching staffs. (2023 stats are through play on March 21.)
Traxel is a good example to follow for young West Virginia pitchers. He successfully transitioned from being a reliever to a starter, racked up more than 200 strikeouts, and threw six complete games during his four years at Cal State Northridge.
With a 15-9 record and a respectable 3.43 career ERA through 270 innings pitched at the collegiate level with Northridge, Traxel has found success trusting his stuff and his defense behind him.
“Once I was in high school I knew I wasn’t going to be overpowering a guy just based on my size and who I am,” said Traxel. “I’ve always kind of been a feed the defense guy. And I know if I get guys out early, get guys to [make] contact early, the defense stays ready as much as possible. So, just knowing that, I’m going to do that, I think the defense is a little bit more ready as well. And it just helps with the whole team and everybody going forward.”
He has brought that knowledge and success with him to West Virginia. Traxel will look to further his pitching hot streak this weekend when he pitches against visiting Xavier.