Replacing an injured star is never an easy thing to do.
When Miami’s ace Dan Touchet went down with a shoulder injury, the ‘Canes had to find a new No. 1 pitcher. The man they turned to was J.D. Cockroft.
Cockroft, the 2002 Ron Fraser Pitcher of the Year, found himself in a new role when the injury forced him to make the transition from middle reliever to the regular Friday starter. Cockroft did not have a huge role in the team his freshman year, posting a 43.20 ERA in just five appearances. However, he got a chance to show what he could do last season and responded with a 5-0 record and a staff best 2.22 ERA in 28 relief appearances. In doing so, he became the first Hurricane pitcher since Chirs Sarmiento in 1985-86 to go from last to first in ERA in one season. This change showed that he could handle the pressure that comes with being the No.1 pitcher.
“Pitching on Friday night is the toughest spot to pitch in and we felt that J.D. was the best guy to fill that role,” head coach Jim Morris said.
As a reliever who had success last season, Cockroft opened this season as Miami’s closer when George Huguet began the season with an injury. During that time, Cockroft earned one save and pitched well in six relief appearances.
However, since becoming a starter, Cockroft has really shined. His 6-0 record with a 2.35 ERA entering this weekend leads all ‘Canes starters.
“It was always my goal to be a starter for this team,” Cockroft said. “My main goal is to set the tone for a series like Dan did. Friday is the most important day in a series and to be dominant is huge.”
His successful transition to a starting pitcher is actually a rekindling of an old role. Cockroft was a starting pitcher in high school and also started for the Topeka Capitals of the Kansas Jayhawk League in the off-season. Starting pitchers need stamina and location, and these are two of Cockroft’s biggest strengthens as a pitcher, according to one of his coaches.
“I’ve always felt that this was the role that best suited him,” pitching coach J.D. Arteaga said. “In the bullpen, you need strikeouts and J.D. is not a strikeout pitcher.”
Cockroft does not throw a fastball in the high 90s nor does he overpower hitters with his pitches. Rather, Cockroft retires hitters by being smart and using location and movement in his pitches.
“He locates his fastball great,” Arteaga said. “Pitching is location, movement, and velocity, in that order.”
Cockroft has also become one of the Miami’s leaders. As a player who was on the 2001 national championship team, Cockroft has seen what it takes to win and as a captain, he leads through actions. Morris points to Cockroft’s attributes as something that aids the team in several different areas.
“He is very committed to what he does,” Morris said. “He is our leader, our captain, and he leads by example. He takes a lot of pride in everything he does, both on and off the field.”
Off the field, Cockroft focuses on two activities, school and music. He is a computer information system major and proved to be the model student athlete when he was named to the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll. Along with being a great pitcher and student, Cockroft has excelled on three different musical instruments. He grew up playing the violin and since then, has also learned the piano and guitar.
“I played the violin for 10 years and was in a California youth symphony,” Cockroft said. “Now I play the guitar and piano because I like to play the songs that are on the radio. I am really into alternative music and modern rock.”
As a pitcher, student and musician, Cockroft has definitely proven to be multi-talented. However, Cockroft is quick to give others credit for his success, particularly his parents who have helped shape the person that he has become.
“My parents have always been there for me and they are really the reason that I’m here right now,” Cockroft said. “Their care, hard work, love, and support have made me able to accomplish a lot of things both on and off the field.”
-Darren Grossman can be reached at DRG215@aol.com