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Hawaii right-handed pitcher Lenny Linsky was a name that was brought to my attention prior to the beginning of the college baseball season. There were reports that surfaced out of Hawaii’s pro day last fall that Linsky was throwing his fastball in the 95-97 range with a slider that touched the upper-80s.
And that’s not even the most impressive part about his fastball. The pitch has such impressive diving life to it, it is a pitch not only is incredibly difficult to hit, but to hit hard. And when he’s not inducing early contact typically in the form of weak ground balls to his infielders, he’ll turn to his slider to put hitters away.
Even when he’s not hitting the mid-90s, he typically sits in the 91-93 range, and last year amassed 12 saves with a sterling 1.64 ERA over 32 appearances as Hawaii took home the Western Athletic Conference crown. He is off to another good start this year, with three saves in six appearances, and he has yet to give up a run, with only two singles surrendered in over six innings of work.
In addition to his two-pitch repertoire, he has a personality tailor-made for the closer role, and has really excelled both last year and into this year coming in the late innings to shut down games. I recently had the opportunity to speak to Linsky about that role and how it came to be, what it’s like to play for Hawaii and what he sees for his team the rest of the season.
Perfect Game (PG): I'll start with the obvious and easy question: You grew up on the ocean in Southern California, but what's it like going to school and playing baseball in paradise?
Lenny Linsky (LL): There’s nothing like playing baseball in Hawaii, besides maybe pro ball. In the same day I can go to the North Shore and see the greatest beach in the world and make it back down by two o’clock and play the greatest game in the world. Baseball in Hawaii is rivaled by none.
PG: What ultimately led to that decision?
LL: Even before baseball came into account I really wanted to go to Hawaii. I love home and I love my family and everything, but I wanted a new experience. All my friends were going to the normal schools, like Arizona (etc.).
I played in the Mariners cup up at Safeco Field, and Coach Trap (Mike Trapasso) was there, he saw me, and at the time he thought I had already signed (with another team). I hadn’t signed with anyone yet, but my high school coach called me (about Hawaii’s interest), and then Coach Trap did, and it didn’t take much convincing after that. Two weeks later I had committed to Hawaii. The one thing that really sold me on the school was Coach Trap. He was really good with my family and I felt I would really be taken care of. That and the paradise part of it.
PG: Do you surf?
LL: I do surf. I’m more of a body boarder. Me and Kolten (Wong) have gone up to the North Shore, we’ve gone up to the Pipeline, Waimea (etc.). I like surfing on smaller waves, but with body boarding I like to get into the big waves.
PG: After five games played in Los Angeles this month, you won't have to travel for over a month. How great of an advantage is it to you personally and to the university as a whole to have so many teams want to come and play you at your home?
LL: I think it’s great for every guy on the team. We’re not in a big-time conference like the Pac 10 or the SEC, so it affects our strength of schedule. But teams want to come to Hawaii, and I guess give their players a vacation and have the experience. So when the schedule came out and we saw we were playing Texas it was exciting. That’s an advantage seeing how we stack up against the best teams in the nation.
It’s also advantage to be here for a month, you don’t have to do any travel, we’re comfortable here, there’s no adjustment to the humidity or weather like you have with some teams. There aren’t any distractions that come with being on the road. Other teams come to Hawaii, they go down to Waikiki and I’m sure they get distracted. We can pretty much be all business and play baseball.
PG: You played with the ABD Bulldogs in high school, and traveled to Jupiter in 2007, so you know what it's like playing with and against some of the best players in the nation. Who are some of the best players you have played with and against?
LL: In high school I played against Kyle Skipworth, who went to Patriot High School and was a high round draft pick. He was awesome. Kolten Wong is obviously here, the guy can just smash, and he’s just a great guy. He’s one of the best hitters I have ever played with.
That guy (Taylor) Jungmann from Texas. We played him this past weekend. He throws gas and hits his spots with good offspeed. That’s one of the better pitching performances I’ve seen. I don’t pay that much attention to the players on the other team as I focus on the work that needs to be done.
PG: Being a closer and serving the role that you do it can be difficult to get out and see you pitch from a scouting perspective since you never know what day you’re going to throw. With Wong on your team he obviously has at-bats throughout the game drawing that game-to-game interest from scouts, which benefits your situation. Do you and Kolten talk about this type attention?
LL: To be honest we don’t really talk about pro ball that often. It’s in the back of our minds, but we’re focused on helping out team win and doing the best we can to get to Omaha or winning the WAC championship. I can’t remember the last time we discussed pro ball. We probably talk more about body boarding.
PG: Tell me about your sinker: Is there anything specific that you do to create so much life on that pitch or does it just come naturally?
LL: It’s pretty much all natural. After my freshman year of college, I didn’t do very well that year, Coach Trap and Coach K (Chad Konishi) came up to me and asked if I wanted to try throwing three-quarters. I figured why not, it couldn’t get any worse than what I was doing. My first bullpen, I kid you not, I used a two-seam grip and I was like ‘What is going on? How did I not know this before?’ Our trainer says it is because my arm is more flexible than most guys. I think it’s just luck that I happen to be able to do that.
PG: What about your fastball velocity? You've thrown in the 90s, but the readings seem to be spiking so far this year. Can you attribute anything specific to that?
LL: We had scout day in the fall and I was told I hit 97. This past weekend I was told I hit 96. I’ve been sitting in the low to mid-90s I guess. Getting older helps. I’ve gained 25 pounds in the last year and a half. The lifting program here at UH is really good. I don’t really like tinkering with my upper body too much because I don’t want to get too muscle bound. I just try to stay as flexible as possible.
PG: Is the idea that how hard you throw doesn’t come from your arm but from your core with that energy working up your body?
LL: Oh yeah. I bench press the least out of all of the pitchers. I’m just embarrassed in the weight room. We have a pretty strong staff and I can barely get 185 up. I don’t really care how much I can lift, I just care about what I can do on the baseball field.
PG: Your slider is also a nasty pitch, and almost seems like a more explosive version of your sinker. Are the two really thrown that much differently?
LL: I would say the slider is a hybrid off the fastball, with the only difference being the grip. I don’t turn it over, I just hold it on the other side of the ball and throw it as hard as I can, just like I do with my fastball, and it just goes the other way.
PG: What else do you throw, and have you entertained starting?
LL: I can throw a changeup, but I’m probably not going to be throwing it too much this season since the closing role is just a two pitch thing. If the fastball’s working I don’t bother too much with the changeup.
If at the next level I have to start I suppose I would be ok with it. Whatever a team wants me to do, I’ll do.
PG: Your personality and explosive stuff seem to be a good fit for the closers role. How do you embrace that role?
LL: When I was younger I looked up to a lot of closers. I was a huge Papelbon fan when he came up with the Red Sox with the fist pumping and all of that. I look up to Jose Valverde, he’s pretty animated. I didn’t want to be that animated where I’m fist pumping after every strikeout, taking my cap off or something funny like that.
This past World Series when Brian Wilson became a big name, that’s who I really wanted to model myself after. Even though he’s known as a little bit of a coot, on the field the guy is as serious as they come. He’s focused and into the game, and off the field he seems like a fun guy.
Off the field I’m pretty mellow. I try not to be too crazy. But for some reason when I’m on the mound a switch flips, I think because I’m so competitive.
PG: You don’t take it as far to rock the beard like Wilson?
LL: No, we’re not allowed to rock the beard. I just got a chin beard, that’s as far as I can go.
PG: Is there any reason you pitch out of the stretch exclusively?
LL: I’m more compact that way. A lot of closers in the big leagues come out of the stretch. There’s a lot more to mess up coming out of the windup in regards to timing. If I want to use the windup later I’ve got it in my back pocket, but for now it’s out of the stretch.
PG: Last year you picked up your 12th and final save of the year against Fresno State to claim the Western Athletic Conference championship. Was that your greatest athletic accomplishment to date being on the mound for that final out?
LL: Absolutely. Being able to be in that position to help my team out and give ourselves our first WAC championship was obviously an honor for me. I’m just happy I was able to help my team do that, there’s nothing to date that has topped that.
PG: You split four games with Oregon to open the season and played Texas tough the following weekend. What do you see for your team for the rest of this season?
LL: I see it going a lot better, as right now we’re not even playing out best baseball. Our coach is preaching how excited he is because we’re not playing the best defense we can. We’re doing pretty good pitching but I think we can do better. Our hitting is better than what we’ve shown so far. We won those games with toughness. We really grinded them out and battled through mistakes. That’s a good test for us early in the season to see what kind of personality we have. Even when we’re not playing our best baseball we can still win games against top teams.
PG: Would you like to part with any words of wisdom?
LL: I don’t have any words of wisdom. Just have fun and play ball.
Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and 5 Tool Talk, and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.