The people who know Buckeye reliever Seth Kinker the best are those whom he’s won over with his attitude for efficiency and effectiveness. They depend on him…and they can’t seem to say enough.
COLUMBUS—By today’s standards—as myopic as they may be—Seth Kinker doesn’t measure up. He has no business doing what he’s doing. He doesn’t light up the gun. All he does is get the job done.
“He doesn’t have typical closer stuff,” says Ohio State coach Greg Beals. “He doesn’t throw 97. But, he competes. He just competes so damn well, and he knows who he is…Seth gives you everything he has every time he gets the ball.”
Kinker’s everything has been good enough to establish himself as the Buckeyes’ shutdown guy and just possibly the most dependable pitcher on OSU’s staff. He’s the Bucks’ closer but he has the capability to surpass the accepted expectations and limitations associated with the roll.
Need an out or two; Kinker is the man. If an inning is required to protect a lead, he gets the call, and if it’s more than that—two innings, three, even four—Beals and pitching coach Mike Stafford, have no reservations about giving Kinker the nod. He’s earned his coaches’ trust, and just as important—if not more so—the trust of his teammates.
“Whatever it takes, Seth is ready,” says bullpen mate Yianni Pavlopoulos. “He’s proven he can handle it…Seth’s done everything on this pitching staff you can do: start, middle innings, set-up guy, closer, he’s done it and he’s done it well.”
“Tell ya what,” says Tyler Cowles, the Bucks senior left fielder, “I’ll put Kinker up against any closer in the country. I’ll go to war with the guy. He’s on the mound; we’re gonna get outs. It’s shutdown time. He’s got that swag; know what I mean?”
From the time Kinker arrived on the Ohio State campus, a freshman out of Cabell Midland High in Huntington, West Virginia, he seemed to possess a confidence that became the trademark of his game. In short order, he earned his place on the ballclub.
Kinker made 17 appearances his freshman season, working 22 1/3 innings out of the bullpen. He allowed 14 hits, three walks and struck out 19. His ERA was 2.82 and he held opposing hitters to a .179 batting average.
Against Indiana in the elimination game of the Big Ten Tournament at Target Field, Beals went to Kinker to secure the final out in the Hoosiers’ three-run eighth inning.
Kinker struck out the only hitter he faced and Ohio State scored a run in the top of the ninth. It wasn’t enough. Indiana topped Ohio State, 5-3, ending the Buckeyes season.
“There is nothing fake about this guy (Kinker),” Nick Sergakis, a mainstay in the Buckeyes infield, said. “He just goes out there and goes after it…He’ll make his mark here. No doubt.”
Each season Kinker was asked to do more. Each season he did more. In 2016—Ohio State’s Big Ten Championship season—he distinguished himself with his performance and his stamina.
Working primarily as the right-handed set-up man along with lefty Michael Horejsei, Kinker led the Big Ten with 38 appearances. He posted a 1.65 ERA and a 6-1 record. In 54.2 innings, he gave up 50 hits and 10 walks.
It was after a 3-0 win over Iowa on Sunday May 8th, that Kinker made a bold prediction. He had worked an inning and two-thirds of scoreless ball to pick up the win, his fifth of the season. Ohio State had taken the series from Iowa, but observers were divided on OSU’s chances in the conference tournament. Most didn’t give the Buckeyes much of a chance.
“Believe me,” Kinker said, “this team is going to be better down the stretch than anybody thinks. We’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
From that point until the end of the regular season, Ohio State was 7-1 overall, 5-1 in the Big Ten. They swept 19th ranked Michigan. They entered the Big Ten Conference Tournament at Omaha with a four seed, lost their opener and then ran the table through the losers’ bracket and a harrowing schedule.
In a span of some 30 hours, they played four games en route to the conference championship.
Kinker set a tournament record with five appearances. His scoreless innings streak of 21.1 was broken in the opening loss to Iowa, but he worked eight innings, struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter in the next four games.
“That’s where we all really learned about Kinker,” said Pavlopoulos, who led the conference with 14 saves. “He showed everyone what he was made of in those elimination games…Pretty impressive.”
The 2017 season was ugly for everyone. Ohio State was 22-34 overall, 8-16 in Big Ten play. Kinker was 3-1 with a 2.95 ERA and seven saves.
Primarily, Kinker—along with a few others—spent a considerable amount of time keeping the lid on a clubhouse that was a tinderbox at times. No one on the team had endured such a losing season. At times, the atmosphere was ugly and angry. The best thing about the ’17 season was that it fueled everyone involved with a determination to play better baseball, “Ohio State baseball,” as senior third baseman Noah McGowan said.
Headed into a pivotal series with Indiana this weekend, the Buckeyes are playing with grit and purpose. They are 24-10, 6-3 in the Big Ten, but Indiana poses the stiffest test of conference play thus far this season. With mid-week games coming up against Notre Dame and Ball State, the Hoosiers are 26-6, 6-1 in the Big Ten and ranked eighth in the country.
It’s a situation right up Kinker’s alley.
“I don’t know,” he said. “The more competitive the situation, the more I like it…I just want to win. It’s been that way since I was a kid, doesn’t matter if it’s ping pong or rock, paper scissors….”
A scratch golfer and winner of several junior tournaments in West Virginia, when it was time for college, Kinker set aside his clubs to concentrate on baseball.
“I love golf,” he said. “I enjoy it and I’m pretty damn good at it. I love watching it. It will always be there for me, but I gave it up because I love baseball so damn much.”
Besides that, Kinker recognizes something, as he says, “deep inside” that he can not tap on a golf course, something that, in fact, would spell doom on any track.
It’s a drive, a competitive push to the edge of one’s emotions and abilities. One cannot drive every green or cut every dogleg on a golf course.
Unlike golf, a pitcher can stare down hitters. He can go all out on every pitch. In baseball guts often trumps judgment.
“There’s just something about baseball,” Kinker said. “I get on a mound and I turn into a different human. I think that’s what makes me the pitcher I am. That’s what has helped me here.
“When I’m on the mound I’m going to do whatever I can to get the guy out. I don’t care how I do it—whatever the situation is—my mentality will always be the same. I’m telling myself, ‘I’m better than the guy at the plate.’ If he beats me, then he’s earned it.”
He doesn’t have shocking skills, but he believes in what he has: an 88, 89-mile an hour fastball he can run in on both right- and left-handed hitters, and a slider.
“Basically,” Beals says, “he’s got two pitches, but his command is so good it’s like they used to say about (Hall of Famer) Greg Maddux, ‘He’s throwing more fastballs than anybody else.’ Well, it’s because Maddux had so many different types of fastballs: a cutter, two-seamer, four-seamer…
“The critical part with Seth is the confidence he has to execute…Most guys at this level like to compete, but can you control yourself and can you execute at an elite level? Seth has that ability.”
“When I’m on the mound, it’s: ‘Here’s my stuff.’” Kinker said. “‘This is what I got. It’s not pretty. It’s not 97, but it’s coming right at you.’ That’s something I believe in…If you believe in yourself—really believe in yourself—that’s more than half the battle.”