Fisher adjusting to starting role with Illini


Austin Yattoni

Pitcher Andy Fisher delivers the pitch during the game against Indiana State at Illinois Field on September 24. Seven Illini, including Fisher, signed with professional teams following the MLB draft earlier in June.

By Gavin Good, Staff writer

When pitcher Andy Fisher left Bowling Green, Ohio, for Charleston, Illinois, the home of Eastern Illinois University, he did not imagine he would end up about 50 miles north a couple of years later. Much less, as a regular starter for a 20-8 Illinois team.

It wasn’t until he actually faced Illinois while at Eastern that Fisher drew the attention of the Illini coaching staff.

Known for an unusual release and movement on pitches — particularly his slider — the pitcher stood out.

“His ball is never straight,” said Illinois pitching coach Drew Dickinson. “It’s just a crazy run and sink. (Fisher) is literally a guy who tells a guy a fastball is coming down the middle and you can’t hit it, you can’t square it up because the ball moves so much.”

At the often-windy Illinois Field, having a pitcher who can throw pitches that sink significantly can make it very difficult for batters to lift the ball up and drive it out. When combining that movement with Fisher’s comparatively slower pitches, it can throw off batters and prevent deep hits, which is crucial in a park where the wind often blows out at speeds of 20 miles per hour.

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“Part of it is throwing slower than everybody else,” Fisher said with a laugh. “I think I have a lower arm slide than most people, and I don’t throw the traditional four-seam fastball. I go two-seams with everything. I never really think about it; it just kind of happens, and I’m lucky that it moves so much, so if I throw it right down the middle, people don’t hit it quite as hard as they hit other people’s.”

Fisher came to Illinois after eight starts and a wealth of relief appearances at Eastern, but due to NCAA transfer rules, he had to sit out last season. With two years of eligibility remaining at the age of 22, the Ohio native is one of the oldest players on the Illini roster.

Both Fisher and the coaching staff feel that his maturity is a valuable asset to the team, which consists mostly of 19- and 20-year-olds.

“What’s really helped with him, too, was bringing him in as a transfer, but (also) the age,” Dickinson said. “It’s nice to have an older guy who can kind of go out and do his thing so the younger guys can follow his preparation and watch what he does.”

Upon his arrival, Fisher immediately noticed the higher-level play that comes with pitching at a Power Five program.

Though the competition around Fisher is better, he has observed a more significant change in the mindset of those around him.

“Obviously, there’s a huge talent difference, but the biggest thing is just the way everyone goes about themselves,” Fisher said. “You expect to be good and you’re going to work harder than what I saw at the other levels.”

Fisher is 3-0 on the season and has worked his way into Illinois’ starting rotation of pitchers, despite functioning more as a reliever in his time at Eastern. In his seven starts, he has pitched  44 innings and has a 3.68 ERA.

As a starting pitcher, he’s found it easier to manage his body — when to lift, when to expect to be sore and when he will feel fresh.

Fisher enjoys being able to throw a variety of pitches, rather than just throwing whatever would-be relief situations dictate. Working in change-ups and curves into the mix of fastballs and sliders allows him to showcase his skill set and be a more dynamic pitcher.

“When I was a reliever, I don’t think my arm hurt as much as the day after you start,” Fisher said. “Your arm is completely gone. The rest of your body is much easier being a starter, because you can lift your certain days and your body is not going to be super worn down any single day.”

Head coach Dan Hartleb was impressed with Fisher’s work ethic last season, despite the fact that he knew he would not see a second of game action. His smooth adjustment to the program has come as no surprise to Hartleb, who is in his 13th season at the helm of the program.

“He knew he’d fit in when he came in,” Hartleb said. “He’s been very consistent and doesn’t get worked up from situations. He’s just got a calm to him; he’s very intelligent.”

Like many college baseball players, Fisher is aiming to end up in the major leagues. But for now, he’s focused on being a reliable and relaxed cog in the Illinois rotation. 

“Being really relaxed is a big thing,” Fisher said. “If you get too amped up, you’re going to lose the strike zone and walk everybody. You’ve got to keep things in perspective; it’s just college baseball.”


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