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September 16, 2013
Almost since he arrived on campus, junior Evan Beal has been something of an enigma. No one ever has questioned the stuff in his right arm, not Chad Holbrook or Jerry Meyers and not the Kansas City Royals who made him their eighth-round selection in the 2011 Major League Draft.
As a freshman in 2012, Beal showed a world of promise, throwing 52 innings while compiling a 4-4 record, 3.81 ERA and striking out 52 batters to 22 walks in mostly relief duty. His final game was his best one - agsinst Arizona in the College World Series, he threw five innings (his longest stint of the year) while allowing only one run.
Beal seemed primed for a 2013 campaign in which he figured prominently into a bullpen (at least) that had lost both workhorse John Taylor and fireballing closer Matt Price, if not a regular midweek starting role. For a while, that seemed to be the case - better, in fact, given that the early injury to starter Jordan Montgomery meant Beal was thrust into the weekend rotation.
His first Friday night start was spectacular, earning the win over Rider by throwing six innings of one-hit baseball, striking out six and walking just two while allowing no runs. It seemed as if Beal could be the answer both to Montgomery's absence and the unexpected scuffling of starter Colby Holmes.
Over the next few weekends, Beal held the Friday night position. He earned a win at Missouri with six strong innings to open the SEC season (6 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 10 K, 1 BB) but then got battered around against Arkansas (3.2 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 6 K, 4 BB) and was lifted in the fourth inning against Texas A&M the following weekend (3.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 6 K, 1 BB).
The next weekend, at Tennessee, Beal slid to the Saturday starting position and responded by walking four batters and allowing two hits in just two innings of work with one strikeout. Though just the fourth of 10 SEC weekends, that would be the last time Beal started a game, in part because that also was the weekend Jordan Montgomery came back. From there Beal moved back into the bullpen, back into obscurity and would face just 32 batters the entire rest of the season in predominantly mop-up work. He finished the year with a 2-1 record and 4.78 ERA in 32 innings pitched, striking out 36 and walking 12.
Beal's meteoric ride to the back of the bench was almost as rapid as his climb to the Friday night role, and it only deepens the mystery of the athlete with the great stuff for whom consistency, whether in composure or command, remains an open question.
On Sunday, Beal threw for the first time this fall, and the results were encouraging. He started for the home side (throwing to Grayson Greiner), tossing two scoreless innings, but in a way the two innings were a microcosm of his 2013 season. In the first inning he allowed two singles, including one to leadoff batter Jordan Gore, and gave up a walk to get into trouble, but got out of the jam when Gore was thrown out trying to reach third on a single from Brison Celek and Wil Crowe flied out.
His second inning represented the best of what Beal offers - a 1-2-3 frame that included a strikeout of Tanner English.
The question now is what does Holbrook do with Beal this season?
"He's got a good arm, and he's got a good breaking ball," Holbrook said Sunday. "We'll just continue to watch his development. He could be very, very special or he could be one of those guys we struggle to find a role for.
"He's got something to prove this fall. A couple of our older guys don't. We don't have to throw Jordan Montgomery this fall. We know what we get out of (Jack) Wynkoop. Evan's got something to prove. He's coming off a good Cape (Cod League) and a good summer, but what role, it's too early to tell.
"He's got great stuff, he wants to start, and we'll certainly give him every opportunity to win a job. He's experienced, he's pitched on Friday night here before so you'd think he'd have a good shot at it, but in what role, it's way to early to tell."
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