Lucas Gilbreath has been one of the best arms in Minnesota’s bullpen since making his debut a month ago.
The sophomore lefty’s season got off to a late start due to issues off the field, but he owns a 2-1 record and a perfect earned run average. He’s pitched 11 2/3 innings in seven appearances, given up two unearned runs and walked seven, while striking out 18.
His two victories for No. 19 Minnesota both came in the team’s series against Maryland, when in two games he pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings.
“He’s made a big difference for us out of the bullpen and made us a lot stronger,” head coach John Anderson said. “He’s gone in there and picked us up, kept us in the game and got us to win some games. It’s valuable when you have a left-handed pitcher ... that gets both right- and left-handed hitters out.”
Gilbreath debated even pitching in college before officially joining the Gophers. The Westminster, Colo., native was drafted in the 36th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft out of high school by the Colorado Rockies.
“Obviously, being from Colorado, the Rockies were always a dream of mine growing up,” Gilbreath said. “But when I came up to Minnesota to take my visit, I just loved the coaching staff and I loved the guys. And I think I made the right decision to come here and develop a little bit more.”
One thing Gilbreath needed to work on early in college was his command. He posted a 5.46 ERA as a freshman in 28 innings of work, striking out 30 but walking 18.
“He’s more consistent this year than he was a year ago. He had a hard time throwing strikes ... consistently,” Anderson said. “He’s settled down a little bit, and he’s done a much better job. He’ll just keep getting better as he pitches more here at the college level.”
Gilbreath pointed to his experience last season and his summer playing for the St. Cloud Rox in the Northwoods League as improving his play this season.
He went 5-1 with a 2.45 ERA for the Rox after making eight starts and 15 total appearances.
“Last year was great. I got a good amount of innings and I got to learn a lot of things,” Gilbreath said. “I kind of learned the ropes of college baseball because it’s a big jump from high school.”
Junior catcher Austin Athmann has been behind the plate in both of Gilbreath’s two seasons so far. Athmann said the young pitcher can be tough to catch — in a good way.
“He’s also got a little something different than a lot of guys do. When he throws it, the ball kind of has a mind of its own once it’s out of his hands,” Athmann said. “[It’s] a bad thing for me to try to catch it, but it’s definitely tougher to hit. He’s very confident in all three of his pitches.”
Gilbreath also credited his teammates with helping him find success on the mound this season after a late debut.
“A lot of it comes from trusting my defense, and I think guys are making great plays around me,” Gilbreath said. “I’ve just had the right things happen at the right times, and I was able to make things happen.”