There’s a pitching term in baseball. It is shoved, or shoving, depending on how you use it. The term is a way of describing a dominant performance by a pitcher, normally one that includes a high number of strikeouts.
Robby Porco (4-1, 6.56 ERA) shoved Sunday.
Porco, making just the second start of his collegiate career, didn’t just shove. He dominated.
The freshman right-hander threw six innings of three-hit baseball, allowing just one earned run while striking out 12 against a Kansas lineup that had scored a combined 15 runs in the first two games of the series.
“I just wanted to make sure I gave us a chance to win as a team, and attack the zone, minimize walks,” Porco said after West Virginia’s 12-3 win.
If that was his goal entering the game, he achieved it and then some. Porco recorded multiple strikeouts in each of his first five innings on the bump, a stretch that included striking out the side in the fifth. He tallied at least one strikeout in every inning he threw, and punched out almost half of the Jayhawks hitters he faced.
His numbers — 6.0 innings pitched, three hits allowed, two runs (one earned), one walk, and 12 strikeouts — are impressive on their own. That he achieved those numbers in just his second-ever start at this level, and had to pitch his way out of a sloppy first inning by the WVU infield, makes the performance even more impressive.
“I can’t get mad at the people behind me. I’ve seen them bail me out plenty of times. So, I mean, you just keep throwing,” he said.
West Virginia fielders committed three errors in the first, which allowed an unearned run to score. Porco stayed composed and recorded a pair of strikeouts to end the frame. He struck out the first two batters he faced in the second inning and two more in the third. After another pair of punchouts in the fourth, Porco was sitting at eight strikeouts through four innings.
The six-foot, eight-inch righty then sat down all three batters he faced in the fifth inning, one swinging and the other two looking. The three-up, three-down inning brought Porco’s strikeout total to 11. He said afterward that he wasn’t keeping track, but plenty of others inside Wagener Field were.
Porco had three pitches working for him and used all three effectively. His changeup, specifically, was used time and time again to get outs.
“He was good. That’s really encouraging for the rest of this season, and the rest of my career here,” WVU skipper Randy Mazey said. “He’s got three pitches. It’s hard to strike that many people out without three pitches. [He] had his changeup going really good, his slider and his fastball. … He can miss a little bit with the pitch, and because it’s 94 or 95, he can get away with it.”
The young hurler got a sense early Sunday that his outing could be one to remember.
“In the pen [pregame], everything kind of felt good. A little nervous, obviously, but everything was coming out right,” said Porco. “Then I got in the game, and they’re swinging and missing. It’s always a good feeling. It gives you a lot of confidence. And then it just kept going right, kept going right; tweaks, tweaks, and yeah it worked out.”
With one more strikeout in the sixth, he finished with 12 punchies (another baseball term, coined by Alek Manoah) on the day. Porco threw 110 pitches — the most he’s ever thrown in a game — 67 percent of which were for strikes.
Porco became just the sixth different WVU pitcher to record at least 12 strikeouts in a game since the start of the 2017 season.
Manoah accomplished the feat five times in 2019, the same year Nick Snyder did it twice. Jacob Watters, Ryan Bergert, and Michael Grove also recorded a dozen or more strikeouts in a game. Porco joined Manoah and Grove as pitchers to do it against Kansas. Manoah and Watters are the only other Mountaineer starters in this time frame to need just six innings to reach at least 12 strikeouts.
Asked post-game, Mazey stated that Porco “probably” will get the start on Sunday, April 16, in the upcoming Big 12 series against Oklahoma State. His young pitcher said he is looking forward to pitching on the road against the Cowboys, who are once again ranked inside the Top 20.