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From wrestling to relief work -- Zack Reser becomes key figure for Beavers

CORVALLIS — One of the great stories in Oregon State baseball this season has been the emergence of relief pitcher Zack Reser.

Yes, of that Reser family.

The grandson of OSU sports benefactors Al and Pat Reser has sprung onto the scene with one of the best regular-season stat lines for a reliever in school history.

To wit:

A 5-0 record with an 0.69 ERA, allowing two earned runs in 26.0 innings over 18 appearances, with 22 hits, six walks, 14 strikeouts and a .239 opponents' batting average.

In Pac-12 games, the 6-1, 205-pound left-hander did not allow a run in eight games and 8 1/3 innings.

This from a walk-on redshirt junior who had thrown all of 9 2/3 innings, with a 6.52 ERA, in his first three years in the program.

"Baseball's a funny sport, isn't it?" asks Nate Yeskie, the Beavers' pitching coach.

Reser's stellar junior campaign has dispelled any notion that his spot on the team was connected to his family's gifts to the school.

"I'm sure people were thinking, 'He's just there because of his name,' " Reser says. "I just let it go in one ear and out the other. I know that's not the case. The coaches know that's not the case. This year, I kind of proved everybody wrong."

"It's been hard, because he knows what people might be thinking -- that he got the opportunity because of that," says his mother, Jane Reser. "But with Nate and (head coach) Pat Casey, it's entirely performance-based. You do your job, you'll get innings. If you don't, you don't play."

Preferential treatment "is not the way Oregon State does it," says his father, Marty Reser. "During Zack's freshman year, Casey came to me and said, 'If he doesn't throw strikes better, I'm going to cut him.' I told Pat, 'You gotta do what's best for the team. He has to make it on his own.' "

Reser's junior season has caught some people by surprise, though not Yeskie.

"The numbers would surprise you, but the body of work hasn't," he says. "Zack is 6-1, he comes from an athletic family and, gosh dang it, he's left-handed."

Reser was a good, but not great, pitcher at Westview High, the No. 2 arm behind ace Sam Johnson as a senior. Reser was an outstanding wrestler with the Wildcats, and both his father and brother Alex wrestled at Oregon State.

"But my mind was set on baseball in college," Zach says. "I really enjoyed wrestling, but my passion for baseball was much greater."

Reser says he spoke with coaches from Linfield and Mt. Hood Community College, "but I was also looking for an education," he says. "Oregon State has a good business program. I had nothing to lose. I was going to walk on and try my hardest to make it. I wasn't going to let it not happen."

Though nearly his entire family attended Oregon State -- including his mother and sister Nikki, who played softball -- he considered walking on at Arizona.

"As much as my family wanted me to be a Beaver, there was a part of me that wanted to try something different," he says. "A few of my close friends went to college out of state, and that seemed like fun. But I ended up at Oregon State, and I'm very happy I did. It's been the best four years of my life."

When Casey first watched Reser pitch, "I thought, 'There's something in there. We just have to get him to do it,' " Casey says. "He kind of had a wrestler's body. We had to get his arm looser and try to restructure that frame."

Marty Reser laughs about it.

"Zach really did have that wrestler's body," says the senior Reser, 54, director of corporate sales for Reser's Fine Foods. "When you wrestle, you're compact. You're attacking. That's more my fault. We're a family of wrestlers.

"Yeskie got ahold of him and said, 'We gotta fix you. You're all broken. It's a process mechanically, and you have four years to change it.' They've done a great job to elongate his motion, and he has worked real hard. Wrestlers are blockheads. They just keep going and going. Nobody was going to tell him he wasn't going to be able to pull it off."

Reser made the physical change from wrestler to pitcher "in about six months," Yeskie says.

There were other things to consider.

"The velocity was a concern when he set foot on campus," Yeskie says. "His fastball came in at between 83 and 86 (mph). His dad asked, 'You think he's going to get better?' I said, 'We're going to find out.' He's a competitor. We knew he'd get better. It was a matter of allowing time to run its natural course.

"The last piece of the ingredient was his mentality, because the arsenal was there. His mentality has changed. His stuff has gotten better. He has gotten stronger. It's taken time to evolve. With left-handed pitching, especially, you need patience. Zack has worked his tail off. He's probably between 87 and 90 now, and we've had him as high as 91."

During his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons, Reser was spotted up mostly against left-handed hitters, often throwing to only one or two hitters in non-critical situations. This year, the role has expanded. He has been the Beavers' most dependable middle reliever and set-up man.

"There have been times when he has been flat dominant," Yeskie says. "There have been times when he has been only OK. The thing about middle relievers, you get them in and out of trouble as fast as possible. This season, he has done a good job of keeping himself out of trouble."

Casey has noticed a difference in Reser's confidence.

"Zack went through a spell for a couple of weeks where he wasn't throwing the ball where he wanted, but his stuff has been really good most of the time," Casey says. "It's about getting out there and having success and believing you can do it. He was never really confident before, and he didn't have command of a second pitch as much as he needed to.

"He has take a pretty big step this year. He has matured. We've put him in some tough spots where there wasn't a lot of room for error. He needed to go through that, too, in his development."

Reser gives full credit to Yeskie, who was honored as national pitching coach of the year last season by Collegiate Baseball.

"I wouldn't be where I am today without Coach Yeskie," Reser says. "He has helped me physically and mentally. He's such a knowledgeable coach. He has helped me tremendously. I can't thank him enough."

Reser and teammate Andrew Moore will forego summer ball to spend six weeks in Seattle working with a pitching coach who began working with OSU pitchers last fall in an arm-care program.

"A bunch of guys on our staff are buying into it," Reser says. "Since working with him, my shoulder has never felt better. I'm looking forward to being able to use his facility and learning how to make my body work right."

Reser seems destined to take over the closer's role. Or maybe not.

"Part of me thinks he might be better off as a starter for us," Casey says. "He has enough velocity. He'll have enough experience. He's going to have to pick up command of a third pitch, but he developed a really good changeup, and he has handled his role well. He's a hell of kid."

Reser now has his eyes on next season, and toward a possible professional career after that.

"I can play at the next level," he says. "I have the talent. I know I can do it. I believe I could be a weekend starter for us next season. That's what I want to do. But either role is great. I'm going to do what helps the team the most."

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