You can never have enough pitching.
It’s a bit cliché, but sayings become clichés for a reason. No matter how gifted a team’s front-line starters or late inning relievers are, it takes contributions from an entire pitching staff to power a club to a winning record.
In the West Coast League, teams play almost every single day. With so many innings to fill, it’s difficult to stack a roster with a surplus of dominant arms. Not because good pitching is impossible to find, but rather because so much of it is required to win consistently in the WCL.
With that in mind, the Sweets are proud to announce the addition of two hurlers that we feel will give Walla Walla an excellent chance to compete in every game we play this summer.
By adding freshman RHP Justin Dolezal of Western Oregon University as well as redshirt freshman RHP Nate Odahl of Gonzaga, the Sweets continue to fill out the roster with quality arms.
Dolezal, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, hails from Mead HS in Spokane, WA. Although an arm injury sidelined him for a good chunk of his freshman season, Dolezal has recently returned to the mound. He’s thrown in three games since making his debut on March 19th, totaling four innings for the Western Oregon Wolves.
“Dolezal’s got good stuff. He throws strikes,” said Sweets coach Frank Mutz. “He’s a high 80s/low 90s type of pitcher with a really good curveball. If he’s stretched out enough, he will get a chance to start some games.”
Originally, the plan was for Dolezal to step right into Western Oregon’s starting rotation. And while his arm issue may have hampered him during his collegiate season, it opens the door for Dolezal to take on a bigger role with the Sweets.
Since his innings count from the spring will be fairly low when he arrives, Dolezal will be able to throw more innings in Walla Walla than some of his teammates who pitched more frequently during the spring.
“To me, what makes a pitcher successful is having the ability to throw every single one of his pitches for a strike in all areas of the strike zone when he needs to,” said Dolezal.
“I think the movement on all of my pitches can help me quite a bit with opposing hitters,” he added.
Dolezal will be making the jump from Division II to the highly-regarded West Coast League. But if he locates his pitches and changes speeds, he should fare well against stiff competition.
“I think I’ll have to keep the fact that I am facing well known D1 hitters in the back of my mind for sure, but won’t let that fact control what I am doing on the mound. I am going to keep the same mindset I use at the DII level and that is to just go at each hitter and just pound the bottom half of the strike zone,” he said.
What’s more, Dolezal is a local kid. Growing up in eastern Washington, he was already aware of the WCL before he was placed on the Sweets’ roster.
“Being from Spokane, I had already known of the Sweets and the WCL so when my coach had told me I had been placed on the Sweets I was beyond excited to be a part of this team because I know that this opportunity to play at this level is something I couldn’t pass up!” Dolezal said.
At Western Oregon, Dolezal is pursuing a business degree with a minor in sports marketing.
Joining Dolezal on the Sweets’ pitching staff is redshirt freshman Nate Odahl of Gonzaga. The 6-foot-3 righty grew up in St. Paul, MN and spent his high school years at Cretin-Derham Hall HS. That’s the same school that produced Minnesota’s two most prominent ballplayers: Hall of Famer Paul Molitor and three-time batting champion and 2009 AL MVP Joe Mauer.
Odahl’s story is atypical for a WCL player. He was not recruited by Division 1 programs and chose to attend Gonzaga based on academics. However, after a year with the Bulldogs’ club team, Odahl emerged as legitimate West Coast Conference arm.
“I started playing on the club team where the captain identified me as a much better pitcher and had me become a pitcher only. I loved the guys on the club team but it didn't offer the level of competition I wanted. So around the start of my second semester of freshman year, I started to take my baseball career more seriously and started working out and started a long toss program to increase velocity. I also worked on developing a change up which has become my best pitch. I ended up walking on in September of 2016 and it’s the best thing that's ever happened to me. I love being part of the team I'm on and am blessed at the opportunity these coaches gave me,” Odahl said.
So far, Odahl has yet to appear in a game for the Bulldogs. But his rapid development, from club infielder to varsity pitcher, portends positively for the right-hander as he prepares for the WCL.
“I would describe myself as a pitch to contact pitcher. As most pitchers in high school I could blow guys away with speed but at this level you have to be a mid 90s guy to do that in college. My best pitch is my change up and that gets me a lot of my outs. My biggest strength on the mound is my ability to locate my change up which helps my fastball,” he said.
Mutz sees potential in the Gonzaga neophyte.
“I spoke to [Gonzaga head coach] Mark Machtolf and he told me that [Odahl] was a guy they were counting on this year who got hurt in the fall and missed some time. They need him to get innings this summer and he’s going to pitch a lot for us. He might get a chance to start some games,” said Mutz.
Every pitcher on the Sweets’ roster is going to see a significant number of innings. Surviving the gauntlet that is the WCL schedule requires contributions from the entire staff.
By adding Dolezal and Odahl, the Sweets continue to improve their chances of getting a quality pitching performance every single night.