How Dylan DeLucia has emerged as ace, kept Ole Miss baseball's rocky season afloat
OXFORD — Ole Miss baseball right-hander Dylan DeLucia has, over the last month, almost single-handedly kept the Rebels' season from spiraling into disaster.
The first-year junior college transfer has made four SEC starts since April 1. In those, he's thrown 30 innings, posted a 1.50 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP and — most crucially — the Rebels are 4-0. In that same time frame, Ole Miss is 3-12 in games DeLucia didn't start.
DeLucia's emergence as the Rebels' Friday-night ace has been equal parts clutch and unlikely, given that in nine relief appearances this year DeLucia owns an 8.10 ERA and 1.70 WHIP in 20 innings.
"I kind of told (Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco) if you give me the starting chance, I'm not going back to the 'pen," DeLucia says. "It was one of those things where, I don't know, I just couldn't figure it out in the 'pen. As a starter I felt more comfortable there."
DeLucia wasn't a disaster in the bullpen. He threw four shutout innings at UCF and he stabilized games against Auburn and Tennessee after starters got roughed up.
But his demeanor changes when he's the first arm out.
Bianco says he's noticed DeLucia's stuff plays up as a starter. He throws harder and maintains that velocity deep into games as well as or better than any of his teammates. He's always been a precision pitcher, but he funnels that precision into groundball outs remarkably well. And as he's proven, both as a reliever and starter, he's one of the few pitchers the Rebels can count on to get batters out a second or third time through the order.
Which leads to the big question: Why wasn't DeLucia starting all along? As Bianco explains it, it's a combination of the limitations of fall practices and the way DeLucia's talents play up in live settings that can't be simulated.
"Everybody in the fall throws about the same amount of innings," Bianco said. "It doesn't matter if you're Lance Lynn or Drew Pomeranz, we pitch so many guys on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Watching it you start to look at the stuff where it's good. He's a strike-throwing machine. But it may lend itself to that relief role, maybe somebody that's got some length to him. Every bullpen needs that. So he kind of got behind some other guys.
"Maybe it was some of his own doing in the fall where he wasn't as dominant and wasn't as comfortable, and that can happen to new guys. But he had some really good relief appearances. And when our backs are against the wall and we go to him to start, he looks like a different guy out there. You can tell the confidence, the demeanor."
DeLucia only made two relief appearances at Northwest Florida State College last season and retired all four batters he faced. Other than that, he's been a starter his whole life. In high school, his mantra was to try to throw seven innings every game. He's wired for volume, not to max out for a few good matchups.
He has something of an old-school approach to pitching. He doesn't try to strike people out. He says 63% of balls put in play are outs, so it's his job to lean into the percentages and let his defense take care of him. He uses his bullpens to work on keeping pitches low in the zone, aiming his fastballs just above a string tied where a batter's knees would be and aiming his sliders at the string so batters will swing through the break.
It's hard to argue with his results. His shortest outing as a starter lasted 6⅓ innings. John Gaddis is the only other Ole Miss pitcher whose done that once this season, and his came in non-conference play. DeLucia has a complete game, two other starts where he pitched into the eighth inning and three wins and a no-decision to his name in what's been the toughest stretch of the Rebels' season.
"In the fall, it wasn't a confidence thing," Bianco said. "It was more of a performance thing. And then we saw him early in the spring and in some relief appearances where we saw that confidence. I don't think we've ever doubted his competitiveness and his confidence."
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or email@example.com. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.