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Van Eyk adds slider, keeps batters guessing

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CJ Van Eyk was already one of the best pitchers in the ACC.

And then he decided to learn a slider in the offseason.

“Three pitches is good but why not have a fourth, you know?” Van Eyk said.

It’s simple math. And a complex guessing game for hitters.

Van Eyk was already limiting opposing hitters to just a .234 batting average, mixing in his mid-90 mph fastball, curve and what Baseball America considers the best change-up in the ACC. But Van Eyk, who had 129 strikeouts in 99.1 innings and a 3.81 ERA in 2019, now has another pitch up his sleeve.

New FSU pitching coach Jimmy Belanger has helped Van Eyk develop the slider but admits that he’s available for advice and that the junior right-hander doesn’t need loads of instruction.

“He’s got an idea of what he’s got to do,” Belanger said. “I’m just here to help him. I try to give him tidbits along the way. Things that I think may help him. It’s just being there for him and being a resource.”

Van Eyk is part of an FSU pitching staff that should be among the best in the ACC going into the 2020 season, which begins on Friday night at home against Niagra at 6 p.m. (live stream on ACC Network Extra). Louisville left-hander Reid Detmers is widely considered the conference’s top arm, setting the program record with 176 strikeouts in 2019 to go along with a 2.78 ERA. It can be argued that FSU and Louisville have the best staff in the ACC in 2020.

The case for the Seminoles begins with Van Eyk, who was at his best in May and June as FSU made a postseason run. Van Eyk picked up critical wins in the ACC Tournament (no earned runs and 11 strikeouts in six innings vs. NC State), as well as the regional (three earned runs in eight innings at Georgia) and Super Regional (four earned runs in 7.2 innings at LSU).

With Van Eyk firmly in the Friday night role, the Seminoles will look to right-hander Conor Grady (9-6, 3.64 ERA) and left-hander Shane Drohan (3-1, 3.66 ERA) on the weekend. It has not yet been defined if Grady or Drohan will be the Saturday starter, although Mike Martin Jr. has been impressed with Drohan’s progress in the fall.

“Every time you step out on the field, all of these guys have to think they’re the best and better than anybody,” Van Eyk said. “That’s how we’re going to play and that’s how we’re going to act.”

That is a tone that is set by Van Eyk, who hasn’t been FSU’s ace (that distinction often went to left-hander Drew Parrish). But it was often known what Van Eyk could do on the mound. His “stuff” is up there with the league’s best, and he’s considered a likely first-round pick in the 2020 draft.

Now his stuff includes a slider, too.

“It shows that he has feel. It shows that he can do anything that anybody wants him to do,” catcher Matheu Nelson said. “And when you think he’s got something, he’s got something else in store for you.”

Coming up

FSU will hold its leadoff dinner on Thursday night. The Seminoles open the season Friday against Niagra at 6 p.m., followed by games on Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.). All games will stream live on ACC Network Extra.

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Q&A with Matheu Nelson

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