Cougars' pitcher Skulina looks to master mental side of pitching

Published: Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013 5:33 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo provided by Kent State Athletic Communications)
Cougars right-hander Tyler Skulina, a fourth-round pick of the parent Cubs in June's draft, was a two-time second-team all-Mid American Conference selection during his college career at Kent State.

GENEVA – Cougars right-hander Tyler Skulina undoubtedly brings bulk to the parent Cubs’ organization.

A favorite son of Strongsville, Ohio, Skulina appropriately goes 6-foot-5 and 252 pounds.

“Just always been bigger than just about everybody else,” he said.

Muscle certainly helps in Skulina’s line of work, but hefty brain power often can be more valuable. In his first few weeks of professional ball since the Cubs drafted him in the fourth round in June, Skulina knows getting a jump on the head games will go a long way.

“People are going to get on. You’ve got to put it behind you,” Skulina said. “You can’t get frustrated with things you can’t control. What I’ve learned a lot is just control. You can’t control the umpire, what happens behind you – errors, hits, whatever it is.”

Friday’s home start against Burlington afforded Skulina the opportunity to heed his own advice while also looking inward.

The Bees scored two runs – one earned – in the second inning after a Skulina throwing error on a Zach Wright sacrifice bunt. Limited to a strict pitch count as he opens his career, Skulina allowed four hits and three runs in 2⅓ innings, scattering one walk and three strikeouts.

Skulina shined for two seasons at Kent State, including a 2012 season in which he went 11-3 with a 3.77 ERA and helped the Golden Flashes to the first College World Series berth in school history.

He officially began his college career at Virginia, but soon transferred upon finding the school wasn’t the right fit. He pitched during fall exhibition play.

The Oakland A’s drafted Skulina in the 46th round out of high school in 2010, months before he would arrive at Virginia. Although he had gone 26-0 in his career at Walsh Jesuit outside Cleveland, honing a fastball that touched the mid-90s, Skulina was up front with scouts that he sought college experience before a pro contract.

“And they’re like, ‘You know what, that’s fine. Just happy you told me that,’ “ Skulina said. “Because a lot of guys don’t tell the scouts that, and then when they did pick them, they’re like, ‘Hey, what the [heck]?’ But yeah, they were perfectly fine with that.”

Teammates have picked up on Skulina’s mellow nature quickly, namely his piggyback partner, Rob Zastryzny. A Missouri left-hander and second-round pick, Zastryzny “really clicked” with Skulina during their few weeks together at Short-A Boise last month.

“We’d sit together on the bus, so we became pretty good friends that way,” Zastryzny said. “He’s a really good dude.”

Outfielder Jose Dore, who was promoted in tandem with Skulina last month, also gave favorable reviews after Skulina compiled a 1.20 ERA over 15 innings and eight appearances in Boise.

“He’s a great pitcher, great guy,” Dore said. “I think he’ll do real well.”

For Skulina, the thinking’s the thing. He admittedly fought overanxiety during his Midwest League debut Sunday, when he spaced three hits, three runs, two walks and one strikeout in two innings at Clinton.

“I was just kind of rushing through it instead of just taking my time,” Skulina said. “I mean, it was good to get that first one out of the way.”

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