April 13, 2014

Freshman Mourelle takes off at FIU

His FIU teammates say he looks these days like a bearded version of Mr. Bean, the British comic character.

His FIU teammates say he looks these days like a bearded version of Mr. Bean, the British comic character.

But to FIU’s opponents, there is nothing funny about freshman right-hander Chris Mourelle, who has been seriously dominant so far this season.

The former Southwest High standout is 6-0 and leads Conference USA with a 0.59 ERA. After starting the season with three relief appearances, he has made six starts and produced two shutouts.

“I definitely didn’t think I was going to be doing this well,” said Mourelle, a native of Miami whose parents were born in Cuba. “I thought I’d be a regular reliever.”

Mourelle, the reigning Conference USA Pitcher of the Week after beating Old Dominion 1-0 last Sunday on a five-hit, no-walk shutout, is one of many FIU pitchers who have benefited from the arrival of new pitching coach Sam Peraza.

Peraza arrived at FIU on August 1 and quickly started preaching his philosophy of pitching to contact. Many pitching coaches talk about keeping the ball low, but Peraza has his pitchers throw the ball up, too, if he thinks they can get easy outs from certain hitters.

So far, Peraza’s methods have worked masterfully — FIU entered this week leading Conference USA with a 1.63 ERA to go with a 24-8 mark and a league-record 10 shutouts.

In the fall, Peraza disallowed the use of radar guns to clock his pitchers. He also did not track results in terms of hits or runs allowed.

What he did monitor was the pitch count. He wanted his pitchers to get out of an inning in 12 pitches or fewer. He also placed an emphasis on throwing first-pitch strikes and strikes on 1-1 counts.

“It took about a month for [my pitchers] to buy in,” said Peraza, a native of California who spent the last season as Cal State Northridge’s pitching coach. “I told our pitchers to think of this like a relay race — go as hard as you can, and then pass the baton to the next guy.”

Peraza, who calls most of the pitches, encourages his pitchers to think. And if they shake off a pitch, it doesn’t matter but there will be a conversation so he can see what his pitcher was thinking.

Here is part of what Mourelle is thinking: He’s glad he chose FIU.

He committed to the Panthers early, as a sophomore, and did not waver when he drew interest from UCF and Virginia Tech or after FIU dismissed its previous pitching coach and brought in Peraza.

Mourelle was undrafted out of high school despite being a second-team All-Dade selection as a senior and leading Southwest to the regional quarterfinals his final two seasons.

Pro scouts likely stayed away because Mourelle’s fastball isn’t all that fast — mid-80s and occasionally high-80s.

There was also the issue of his sterling academic record — a 4.7 grade-point average at Southwest. Scouts figured Mourelle was a serious student and unlikely to skip college for a low signing bonus.

Mourelle, who is studying sports management and is considering a career in coaching, is glad he stayed in Miami, where he can fish with his little brother Andre, 13, who will be a freshman baseball player at Southwest next season.

And surely Peraza, head coach Turtle Thomas and everyone else at FIU is happy he chose the Panthers.

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