Arizona baseball: Nathan Bannister's offseason changes help lead Wildcats to College World Series Final Four
Last summer, Arizona pitcher Nathan Bannister knew he needed to make a change.
Despite leading the team in wins as a junior, Bannister’s weight and conditioning had limited the right-hander from taking the next leap in his progression from bullpen reliever to Saturday starter to Friday night ace.
Bannister devised a workout and diet plan with UA strength and conditioning coach Jim Krumpos to get in game shape by the start of the 2015-16 season.
Bannister substituted out eggs for egg whites. He began snacking on fruit through the afternoon. He made sure to get plenty of rest.
Krumpos put Bannister through a variety of exercises — all timed — and recorded Bannister’s progress throughout the summer and fall.
By the fall, Bannister had dropped 37 pounds.
Now it’s summer again, and Bannister is still pitching in an Arizona uniform. He credits the conditioning program for providing stamina needed to pitch effectively this late into the season.
“[My body] feels great,” Bannister said. “Mentally, I can definitely feel it. It just eases my mind with the rest and hydration along with the diet. Last year I don’t think I would have been able to do this.”
On Friday, Bannister will make his 20th start of the season when the Wildcats take on Oklahoma State in the College World Series. The Cowboys shut out Arizona 1-0 on Monday and another low-scoring affair is expected in the rematch.
Bannister feels ready and looks ready.
On Wednesday night, after Arizona eliminated UC-Santa Barbara with a 3-0 victory over the Gauchos, UA head coach Jay Johnson said Bannister looked like Greg Maddux during his bullpen session.
Thursday morning, Arizona pitching coach Dave Lawn took it one step further, comparing Bannister to former San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Joe Montana.
“He’s about as close to perfect in his preparation every day,” Lawn said. “Back in my day when the 49ers were going to Super Bowls, they talked about how not one ball hit the ground in Joe Mantana’s Super Bowl preparation, "Banny" has kind of been that way for the whole year,” Lawn said.
Oddly enough, then, it’s been Bannister who’s drawn controversy from ESPN baseball writer Keith Law over how many innings he’s thrown during the regular season and postseason.
In the Regionals in Lafayette, Louisiana, Bannister threw 198 pitches over the course of two starts in four days.
Law, an outspoken voice on Twitter, suggested that the Arizona coaching staff was abusing Bannister’s arm and others by forcing the pitchers to throw too many innings in too little of rest.
“That’s outside voices,” Bannister said. “Our pitching staff is used pretty well. We have a good program for us.”
Bannister indicated that he’d be ready to throw a complete game on Friday, if needed.
According to Johnson, Bannister has been able to save energy by relying on a mix of off-speed pitches.
“Strikes, low strikes, in-and-out changing speeds. What that does is it keeps your pitcher’s pitch count down,” Johnson said. “He’s Billy Chapel from that movie ‘For the Love of the Game.”
Bannister, who will pitch on full rest, usually throws long toss during the week and receives a massage from coach Krumpos.
The routine hasn’t changed now that the Wildcats are in Omaha, Nebraska. The spotlight just happens to be a bit bigger.
“We’re just ready to go, ready to compete,” Bannister said. “We’re in the Final Four. That’s all you can ask for.”
Opening pitch Friday is slated for 12:05 pm MST. The Wildcats are playing as the visiting team.
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