After a shoulder injury cut his 2018 season down to just one game, junior right hander Bobby Ay has returned to become Cal Poly Baseball’s best starting pitcher.
“Before, I would have to gain confidence by getting guys out,” Ay said. “Now, I just start the game with the confidence that I am better than any of the guys out there.”
As Cal Poly’s Saturday starting pitcher, Ay has a 3.56 ERA and an 8-1 record. A loss to UC Irvine on May 11 broke his seven-game winning streak. This is the first season in his four years at Cal Poly that Ay has been a consistent starter.
Ay pitched in seven games during the 2016 season as a true freshman. Against Santa Clara, he allowed just one unearned run, five hits and recorded four strikeouts for his first victory as a Mustang.
“As a freshman, I was just pretty scared honestly going in because I didn’t know what to expect, but it was helpful to have the older guys there,” Ay said. “Those guys they helped me a ton just kind of getting the ropes and finding where I belonged in the program.”
His 2017 season showed some improvements, with 11 starts and 25 strikeouts.
“I’ve been hard on him throughout his career to try to get the most out of him,” head coach Larry Lee said.
In the 2018 season, was slated to be the Sunday starter for the Mustangs. However, Ay ended up pitching a total of 2 2/3 innings. In the season-opening series against Oregon, he gave up five runs and three hits before leaving the game due to a shoulder injury. Ay did not return for the rest of the season.
“I just felt like it wouldn’t get loose when I was playing catch, and then while I was throwing on the mound, it just felt like I was getting punched in the shoulder every throw,“ Ay said.
After receiving a medical redshirt, Ay slowly, but surely started getting back into the swing of things. He took many steps towards a long recovery process. Every two weeks, Ay attempted to throw on the mound.
“I think it was a huge year off for me, because one I got to learn a lot from just sitting on the bench, talking to the coaches, so I was able to learn so much off the field,” Ay said.
Ay was diagnosed with a shoulder impingement, a common injury among baseball players. After he finished six weeks of physical therapy, Ay said he felt prepared to step back onto the mound.
“The first three starts of mine weren’t the best, and definitely not up to my level, so I knew I had to make a change,“ Ay said.
Through his first nine innings pitched this season, Ay allowed 11 hits and eight earned runs. On March 8, his start against Columbia in the weekend series was when Lee saw his confidence make a come back.
“Now, when he takes the mound, he’s confident,” Lee said. “He can get quality hitters out. He’s hands down been our best starting pitcher and he’s stayed healthy the entire season.”
“That Columbia series, that was it for me,” Ay said. “I was either gonna make it or break it. I decided I wasn’t gonna let myself fail.”
In the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, the third game of the series, Ay tossed another impressive seven innings. He allowed one run, five hits, two walks and five strikeouts. The Mustangs won 13-6 to clinch the series.
Ay earned wins in his first even starts of the season.
On Saturday, May 11, Cal Poly fell 8-0 to UC Irvine. Ay said his first loss this season was a learning experience.
“Overall, I can learn a lot on how to throw on different counts, what they saw and what they took advantage of,” Ay said. “ I can take that into my next start and not let it happen again.”
The team is in second place and just three games back from the first place UC Santa Barbara. Ay is hopeful they will grab the Big West Title at the end of the season.
“[I’m] treating every start like it’s just another start and then whatever happens after that, happens, you can’t really control the wins and the losses,” Ay said. “But I can control the effort that I put in.”