Goss: Lefty Tom Helwich gets it right as Lewis’ No. 1 pitcher
By Dick Goss email@example.com May 1, 2013 10:26PM
Tom Helwich, of Lewis. | Supplied photo
Updated: June 3, 2013 2:19PM
Teammate Michael Schroeder has proved he can do it.
If push came to shove, Tom Helwich probably could as well.
But Helwich made the decision after his freshman baseball season at Lewis University that he would be of more value to the Flyers if he concentrated on pitching and put his bat in storage.
This spring, as a junior, Helwich is reaping the benefits. After two decent seasons on the mound, the left-hander from Lincoln-Way Central has become one of the top starters in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. He is a primary reason Lewis (26-13, 20-9), despite a six-game losing streak, still can win the GLVC East title, play in the GLVC Tournament and receive an invitation to the NCAA Division II regional.
And he’s done it in unspectacular fashion. Although he is draft eligible this spring, “Tom is not a (pro) scout’s dream,” Lewis coach Tim McDonough said. “He’s a mid-80s (mph) lefty. He is a pitch-to-contact guy.
“Not being a high-velocity guy, he doesn’t command a lot of attention. I hope he gets a chance to pitch professionally some day. He’s the type you have to see time in and time out to appreciate what he does.”
Even though opposing hitters make some contact against Helwich, that hasn’t worked out so well for them.
Helwich is 8-2 with a sterling 1.47 ERA. He has made 10 starts, three of which were complete games, one a shutout.
In 731/3 innings, he has allowed 53 hits and 12 walks while striking out 55. Any time your WHIP is under 1.00 and opponents are hitting .204, you’re doing something right.
“The glaring stat that jumps out at you is the hits per innings pitched,” McDonough said. “And, he keeps our bullpen fresh by going deep into games.
“Innings are huge on our level. We’re not like big-league staffs, where there are 12 proven commodities. We need our starters too give us innings.”
Helwich went a respectable 6-for-22 as a freshman hitter when he played some first base in addition to pitching in nine games. Then came the decision.
“I wasn’t hitting terribly my freshman year,” he said. “But there came a point in the summer where I felt I had to pick one or the other.
“I took pitching, and it came together. I like pitching more because you are more in control of the game. Pitching has been enjoyable.”
As a freshman, Helwich made eight starts among his nine pitching appearances and was 3-4 with a 3.25 ERA. In 551/3 innings, he allowed 62 hits and 15 walks while striking out 47. Opponents hit .287.
As a sophomore, he was 7-2 with a 3.57 ERA. In 12 starts, he pitched 852/3 innings, allowing 97 hits and 15 walks while striking out 62. Opponents hit .288.
Not a bad first two years by any means, but this season has been special.
“You never expect the kind of numbers Tom has put up this year,” McDonough said. “He came to us a two-way guy. I originally thought pitching was secondary for him, but he came in and established himself. He talked to me after his freshman year and said playing a position wasn’t that important, he wanted to concentrate on pitching.
“Now he has established a reputation around the league as one of the top starters.”
Helwich understandably is pleased with how 2013 has gone but emphasizes he has not done it alone.
“I’m real happy with how this season has gone, but I can’t get lazy now,” said Helwich, who is on the roster of the Joliet Dirtbags, the local entry in the summer Chicago Suburban Baseball League.
“It has helped that our offense has really been good most of the year. Schroeder, (Jake) Murray and (Drew) Buddle all are hitting.”
Schroeder is at .349 with five homers and 34 RBI, Murray at .336 with eight and 24 and Buddle at .325 with 34 RBI.
How did Helwich’s improvement happen?
“In the offseason, I gained a couple of miles per hour on my fastball,” the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Helwich said. “Coach (Scott) Sobkowiak (Lewis’ pitching coach) does a great job calling pitches. All the hard work is coming together, and it shows in the numbers.
“Whatever happens from here on, at Lewis and maybe if something happens after that, I know I just have to keep working hard.”
Lewis will play back-to-back doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday against Indianapolis to conclude the GLVC regular season. As the Flyers ace, Helwich will start one of the games.
The Lewis baseball family could not be happier that when Helwich was coming out of Lincoln-Way Central as one of the area’s best two-way prospects, he chose to stay close to home. And his decision to concentrate his efforts on pitching has not worked out badly, either.
“I wanted to go somewhere I could play in college,” Helwich said. “Coach McDonough made me a good offer and it has worked out since.”
The best part is, his story is far from complete.