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Knack's historic start won't be finished

Joe Avento • Mar 21, 2020 at 12:00 PM

JOHNSON CITY — Landon Knack was on a historic roll when college baseball was shut down.

When the history for the 2020 season is written, perhaps one of the more disappointing aspects will be that we never got to see what the East Tennessee State pitcher could do.

Through four starts, the hard-throwing right-hander had struck out 51 batters. But the Johnson City native wasn’t just rearing back and throwing as hard as he could, hoping for the best. Knack had command of those bullets enough to have issued one measly walk.

The NCAA doesn’t have a record for strikeout-to-walk ratio on file, but it’s pretty safe to say few pitchers have approached the 51-to-1 mark.

Now, with no more games scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic, Knack and his teammates are left wondering what could have been. The Bucs were 12-3 and would have been favored in at least the first game of every Southern Conference series with Knack on the mound.

“It’s sad and cool to think about what could have been with some of those numbers I was on pace for,” Knack said. “But to sit here and think about that would drive myself crazy. I try to put it out of my mind.

“Obviously, it’s really sad to see it happen. I really think we were starting something special and we could have had a really fun season. It’s tough to deal with right now, but we’re getting by.”

Knack was 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA in four starts and batters were hitting .136 against him.

One reason for Knack’s production this year has been increased velocity. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior was consistently throwing between 93 and 95 mph, topping out at 98.

“That was definitely a recent thing,” Knack said. “We talked about how crazy it was. Two years ago, I was only throwing 89. Last year I hit about 90, 92, maybe touched (93). By the end of the year I hit 94.”

When word of his newfound velocity started getting out, he was no longer a stranger to big league scouts.

“We started to get a lot more attention,” Knack said.

The fact that he didn’t get any attention last year in the major league draft was an impetus to finding the velocity.

“After the draft happened and I didn’t get picked and I personally thought I could have been somebody that should have at least got a call, I kind of used that for motivation,” Knack said. “It pushed me to working hard. I spent the whole last year — my eating, lifting, throwing program went to another level. It’s definitely paid off.”

Now that Knack has the tools the pros covet, mainly velocity and control, he could become a high draft pick. There are two obstacles in his way, however. One, nobody knows if the draft will even be held. Two, is a four-game season enough to show the scouts what he can do?

“We’ll see,” he said. “It would be a cool honor if that did work out and those four games were enough. I’ve gotten good feedback from the people I’ve talked to about it. We’ll just see what happens.

“I’m not going to worry too much about it.”

The season canceled, Knack — like other players — is on his own to stay in shape. For pitchers, it’s a difficult proposition because there aren’t any live hitters to face.

Knack will be throwing and working out with former teammate Micah Kaczor, who is pitching in the Colorado Rockies farm system.

“I’ll throw off a mound to work a hitter, work on some things here and there,” Knack said. “It’s kind of hard to truly simulate a game setting, but we’ll be doing the best we can to try to do that.”

Knack could come back for another year of college after the NCAA ruled that players who missed this season have another year of eligibility, but you can tell he has his heart set on playing professional baseball when it returns.

“There’s always that if I really wanted to, if things don’t work out for the draft,” he noted.

If Knack doesn’t return to ETSU, his career ERA of 2.29 — tallied in two years after transferring from Walters State — will be the school record.

Either way, Knack is grateful to be able to play college baseball in his hometown, even if his career turns out to be one season plus four starts.

“I loved every second of it,” he said. “I was so happy I came back to ETSU.

“Being able to pitch at the school that I loved since I was a little kid, to get to throw in my hometown, have my parents come to every game, it was really a fun experience. The coaches made it such a great experience. I’m very blessed I’ve gotten to play here.”

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