Hott finds identity in relief role for surging Hornets

Shenandoah University senior and 2013 Strasburg High School graduate Tyler Hott is tied for the Old Dominion Athletic Conference lead with four saves this spring. Photo courtesy of Shenandoah University

Longtime Shenandoah University head baseball coach Kevin Anderson is at no loss for words when listing all of the quality attributes he sees in senior reliever Tyler Hott.

Anderson, when speaking of the 2013 Strasburg High School graduate on Tuesday, called Hott the type of player that SU’s baseball program takes pride in – a person whose work ethic and achievements in the classroom mirror those displayed on the baseball diamond; a player who understands the game; a pitcher who knows how to identify a hitter’s weaknesses, can command each of his pitches for strikes, hold runners effectively and field his position.

Hott, Anderson said, has become the “epitome of a pitcher.”

But although Hott now holds down a pivotal spot at the back end of the bullpen for a Hornets squad off to one of its best starts in program history, his role at SU during his first three seasons was more difficult to define.

Recruited as a two-way player out of high school, Hott bounced around the diamond during his first three years at SU, seeing time as a starting pitcher, a reliever, a utility infielder and occasionally in the outfield.

Only now, as a senior, has the right-hander found himself in a specialized role.

“I’ve kind of had an up and down career here at Shenandoah so far where I’ve been in the bullpen, I’ve started a few games, trying to find my identity as well and I think it’s nice I’ve been able to do both here,” Hott said of being a two-way player earlier this week. “And I’ve experienced some success and some failure at both spots as well, so it’s definitely been a humbling experience.

“My family and I truly believe anything’s possible with hard work, dedication and so forth. I wouldn’t say I got down or anything in regards to (seeing inconsistent playing time). I just wanted to keep working and doing my best and contribute any way I could to each of the teams that I’ve played on.”

Hott’s emergence as one of Shenandoah’s go-to late-inning arms in 2017 is the end result of an evolutionary period in which he filled roles as needed for the Hornets. It became clear, Anderson said, that after the exits of former closer Phil Morse Jr. (who was selected by the Washington Nationals in last year’s MLB Draft) and fellow senior Ryan Mossman – who combined to make 41 relief appearances for a total of 70 innings in 2016 – that Hott’s greatest value this spring was in the bullpen.

Hott realized as much. During fall practice he continued to work as an infielder and a pitcher in order to help teach the Hornets’ new arrivals the ins and outs of the program.

As the 2017 season approached Hott stepped aside and limited himself strictly to the mound.

“I always thought from the beginning that pitching was my strongest aspect in baseball,” said Hott, who has a .200 batting average with a home run and five RBIs in 45 collegiate at-bats. “Even at Strasburg (where he played shortstop and pitcher) I thought pitching was what I was the best at. And Coach Anderson gave me the opportunity to come here and do both and I tried to do both for three years. And I got a good chunk of playing time last year at shortstop and a little bit in the outfield, I believe. Just my hitting wasn’t up to par and I felt that it was best for me, and the best opportunity I (had to) help the team was strictly from a pitching standpoint.”

Hott has thrived on the mound in 2017. He’s pitched 10 innings of relief over five appearances, having allowed just one earned run during that span for a 0.90 ERA. He’s also allowed six hits and three walks while striking out six.

Hott’s four saves are tied for the most in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and he’s also picked up a win which, ironically enough, came in his shortest outing of the season, when he pitched a third of an inning in a 9-8 victory over Lynchburg on March 12.

Not your prototypical closer, Hott has pitched less than one inning during a relief appearance just once this season, and twice he’s tossed three frames to pick up a save.

In a reflection of Hott’s versatility, Anderson said he wouldn’t hesitate to give the senior a start at any point this season if the need arose.

“We’re gonna give him the ball when the game’s on the line, whether it be as a starter (or) coming out of the bullpen,” Anderson said of Hott, who has a career 4.25 ERA over 55 innings.

“We have confidence to bring him out in the fourth, fifth or at anytime, and he has come through for us each time we have asked him to pitch. The entire team has a lot of confidence in Tyler’s abilities.”

Not known as a power arm, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Hott instead relies on a mid-80s fastball that he complements with a curveball and changeup, and he can throw all three for strikes. The changeup, Hott said, has become his best pitch after Anderson tweaked his grip when Hott arrived at SU as a freshman.

“He has been a pleasure to work with since day one,” Anderson said. “He’s done everything that we have asked from him as far as on the field, off the field, in the classroom. He’s been a dean’s list student since day one. He’s gotten bigger, faster, stronger with countless hours in the weight room. He’s been a very good leader for our team.”

Hott, who has been a part of three NCAA regional appearances with SU, was groomed for that leadership role by former relievers such as Morse, Mossman and Matt Riegler and former position players Corbin Lucas, J.J. McDaniel and John Wilt, he said.

This season Hott is trying to help teach his younger teammates the Hornets’ “winning ways” while the victories continue to pile up. Shenandoah, ranked No. 1 in the nation in the D3baseball.com/NCBWA Top 25 for the second straight week, is 19-1 entering Saturday’s home doubleheader against Guilford, matching the 2011 squad for the best start in program history.

“Overall just the season’s been a great experience, especially for our senior class, this being our last ride and potentially one of the best starts in school history if we keep it rolling, hopefully,” Hott said.

“It’s been cool to sit in the bullpen and watch our hitters have so much success, our defenders have so much success and then especially our starting pitchers with Gerard (DePhillips) and Colin (Morse), who have been doing really well for us and really figuring things out as they go along. So it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com