Pauly shores up PU bullpen

Tiger sophomore finds success as closer

By: Justin Feil
   Princeton University baseball coach Scott Bradley was just following a lead from an old friend when he first looked at pitching prospect Thomas Pauly, then a lanky right-hander with a big sweeping side-armed motion for Episcopal of Jacksonville in Florida.
   "One of the big reasons we pursued him was he played for a friend of mine, Joel Davis," said Bradley, who met Davis when both were in the Chicago White Sox organization. "He called me and told me about Thomas. He said that he’d only been pitching a couple years, that he had a real good arm and he got a lot of movement on his ball.
   "When I saw him pitch, he had these big, long arms. He was a swimmer. And he threw kind of loose."
   In truth, Pauly was just helping out Davis who needed another pitcher. Pauly thought of himself as more of an outfield prospect, but came to Princeton with the knowledge that the Tigers wanted him to pitch. Pauly hasn’t swung a bat since he arrived at Old Nassau in the fall of 2000, and in just over a year and a half, he’s become not just any pitcher, but one of Princeton’s best pitchers.
   "He’s Mariano Rivera for us," Bradley said, comparing the sophomore to the renowned Yankees ace closer. "In the second half of last year, he pitched as well as anyone. It just took him a while to get acclimated."
   Pauly has had no such slow start this season. Tuesday, he pitched the final three innings in an 8-1 win over Rutgers to complete his sixth save of the season, just three shy of David Boehle’s school record of nine. The Tigers, who are 6-2 in the Ivy League and 11-14 overall after Tuesday’s win will play four total games this weekend, doubleheaders at Brown Saturday and at Yale Sunday.
   "I’m very surprised," Pauly said of his success. "I’ve worked hard at it, so it’s been rewarding."
   Pauly seriously considered swimming in college, but instead, he came to Princeton to play baseball. Once committed, the Tiger coaches went to work. Almost immediately, Bradley saw a change that may end up being the biggest move yet.
   "You’d watch him play long toss, and he could throw it from foul pole to foul pole without a crow hop," he said. "The ball comes off his hand and you could hear the seems spinning. We had to get him throwing over the top."
   So the kid that felt he was partly recruited because he threw sidearm found the Tiger staff telling him to throw the way that he did in the outfield. And he’s found a noticeable difference, in decreased flare-ups of tendenitous in his elbow and in an increase in velocity in his fastball.
   "It increased a lot. I used to throw 81 (miles per hour) sidearm," the Atlantic Beach, Fla. resident said. "Now it’s 90 to 92. I do tons of stuff for my arm. I do a lot of running for my legs. I do shoulder strengthening. I’ve put on some weight."
   A sturdier Pauly makes him perfect for the closer role. Bradley loves that he can bounce back from three-inning outings like he had against Rutgers to give him another inning the next day if necessary. Though there were some thoughts early in the season about making him into a starter, Bradley is thrilled to have him as a closer.
   "He’s made to be a closer," he said. "He’s quick to the plate out of the stretch. He has good control. He laughs and smiles, but in there’s a tough competitor. It’s so nice to have Thomas to be able to close out the first three games of a series. He’s so versatile. He’s able to throw three or four innings if he has to, and he can close a game. In terms of being beneficial to the team, it’s the best way to use him. He’s been blessed with a good arm and he has confidence now."
   Through Tuesday’s game, Pauly’s numbers are Rivera-esque. In 10 appearances, he has a 0.57 earned run average in 15Ò innings. He has 19 strikeouts and just seven walks and he’s allowed just two extra base hits. Opponents are batting .217 and no one has attempted to steal when he’s been on the mound.
   "I don’t think I’m a traditional anything," Pauly said. "I almost had a chance at a starting role. It was the last game of the spring trip, against William and Mary, and I asked (Bradley) if he was keeping me as a closer. I like it. It’s my ideal thing. It makes me focus more."
   He likes being brought in under less than ideal situations, though he’d just as soon seen one of his teammates finish out a complete game. Not surprisingly, however, Pauly excels under pressure. You’d expect nothing less from the chemical engineering major who developed quickly in the second half of last season.
   "I struggled in the start. It was the jump from high school," Pauly said. "I started pitching when I was a junior in high school. I did it for fun and they needed a pitcher. But you can’t just do that in college baseball. I had to get my arm healthy again and I wasn’t used to good hitting."
   Now it appears that no opponent can get used to his good pitching. His break-out game, according to Bradley, came in a three-inning appearance against Monmouth in which he allowed just one hit and struck out two.
   "Then we brought him in the back ends of the doubleheaders against Penn the next weekend," said Bradley of Pauly’s first collegiate save. "From then on out, he was as good a pitcher as there was. It has a lot to do with confidence."
   But even Pauly was stunned to be pitching in the Ivy League Championship, which the Tigers took, two games to one against Dartmouth. It capped off a solid season, and set him up for a strong start to this year.
   "I was surprised with how much I improved," Pauly said. "I was surprised how much faith Coach Bradley had in me. Coming in, I definitely didn’t think I was college quality."
   Pauly’s shown the Ivy League that he’s easily at that level, and the next level has been showing growing interest in the steadily improving pitching prospect.
   "I get a lot of calls," Bradley said, "And as many of them are asking me where he’s playing this summer as anyone else."