NEW MARKET — Much of the offseason energy for Stonewall Jackson’s baseball team was spent on becoming more productive at the plate in 2019. If you were looking for specific players who embody the strides the Generals have taken offensively this season, junior Tyler Dellinger would certainly be one of them.
In his first season at the varsity level last year, Dellinger batted .233 in 17 games played, going 10-for-43 at the plate with eight RBIs and five runs scored. Dellinger has posted that same number of at-bats through the first 13 games this spring, and this time he’s sporting a .442 average with 19 hits, 14 RBIs and 13 runs scored.
Surely some of that rise in production has to do with Dellinger becoming more comfortable against the pitchers he’s facing at the varsity level. But it’s also a product of the team-wide quest to get better by putting in more work outside of the high school season.
“A lot of offseason work was the big thing for me,” Dellinger said before Stonewall’s home game against Wilson Memorial last week. “I’ve been hitting since last November. My hitting coach (Blake Sipe of Upper Deck Sports Academy in Bridgewater), the coaches here just keeping my swing on track, trying to stay on top of the ball and just get quality at-bats.”
Dellinger has been Stonewall’s most productive hitter to this point in 2019. His batting average, RBIs and runs scored are tops on the team, as are his .500 on-base percentage and his .558 slugging percentage.
He’s had at least one hit in 11 of Stonewall’s 13 games, and four times Dellinger has tallied three hits. Dellinger also has at least one RBI in eight games this spring — he had eight RBIs through the Generals’ first four contests — and has a trio of three-RBI games.
Though he’s emerged as Stonewall’s top run producer and has been slotted in as the Generals’ cleanup hitter for the last three games, Dellinger is not exactly a slugger. Just four of his 29 varsity hits since the start of last season have gone for extra bases, and he’s notched a double and two triples among his 19 hits in 2019.
But Dellinger knows there is more to driving in runs than swinging a big bat. He worked in the offseason to become less pull-happy, he said, and did plenty of tee work and front toss to work on hitting the ball to the opposite field.
Dellinger’s style of driving in runs, he said, is more about ball placement than power.
“Guys like Tyler, who with runners on in scoring position, we’re not trying to hit the ball in the trees, we’re trying to get the runs home,” Generals head coach Jeremy Knight said. “Home runs happen. Really they’re not ever really planned, it’s just you put a good swing on a good pitch and it happens. But for these guys, we did a lot of opposite tees, we did a lot of different things with tees this year than just put it there and hit it.
“It’s just a whole different mindset of ‘this is the situation, I need to put a good swing on the ball and not try to kill it but get these runs home,’” Knight added. “For most of the season, it’s worked.”
Dellinger said Stonewall’s returning varsity players — there weren’t many of them — took the initiative in the offseason to get their teammates into the batting cage to alter their approaches at the plate.
Dellinger, who plays basketball in the winter but still made time to get cuts in, whether it was at home, with his teammates or with hitting coaches, said his interactions with coaches at the various college camps he attended helped him develop his own idea of what his approach in the batter’s box should be.
“Meeting with those coaches and (hearing) their stories about how their players have put together good seasons and the approaches they’ve put up, I just took all that into account and just started over the offseason thinking about what (I) wanted (my approach) to be,” Dellinger, who played travel ball for the Batting Cave out of Grottoes, said, “and it just all fell in line.”
Dellinger’s time leading up to the 2019 high school season wasn’t spent entirely on offense, either.
The junior right-hander entered the year as the Generals’ projected ace on the mound. Knight said he was comfortable naming Dellinger as such because of the amount of work he puts in, and because Dellinger — who logged 16 innings as a sophomore in 2018 — was one of just two returning players, alongside sophomore Austin Ritchie, who had prior varsity pitching experience.
“I had college coaches emailing me, ‘hey, he’s up to 82, 83 (mph).’ I think one said he got up to 84 this year, which we haven’t been able to show much out here, but then again pitching in 40-degree temperatures isn’t always the best either,” Knight said. “But I just knew as much work as he puts in and he’s done it before. … I have no senior pitchers on this team and he is essentially a senior pitcher as a junior. He’s the oldest pitcher I have and he’s been here, he pitched last year, and the work he put in in the offseason going through the jump program with the basketball coach, there’s a lot of lower body, which got his (velocity) up.”
Dellinger leads Stonewall with five starts, and he’s struck out 22 and walked 12 in 21 ⅓ innings while his ERA sits at 6.23, a number hurt by the five earned runs he allowed in three innings pitched during an 8-0 loss to Luray last week.
“Right now we’re still working a little bit on spots, still working on a little bit more sharpness to the curve, but there, for the most part, this year he’s been pretty lights out,” Knight said. “(Against Luray) we got touched up a little bit but it was a cold night and Luray put on good swings, and as a pitcher you’re gonna have those games.”
As for the rest of the season, Dellinger said he wants to fare better on the mound with runners on base, and at the plate he wants to remain a tough out while not trying to do too much.
Stonewall (6-7), which went 6-17 last season and was knocked out of the Region 1B semifinals by Riverheads, has seven regular-season games left before the Shenandoah District tournament.
Dellinger said a return to the Class 1 state tournament — Stonewall reached the state championship game in 2017 — is the “big goal” for the Generals in 2019.
“We’re just trying to all prepare for farther down the road in the postseason and stop, as Knight said (last week), the roller coaster of win a game, lose a game, try to get more than even at .500 or one game above,” Dellinger said. “And then my personal goal’s really just keep supplying how I’ve been at the plate and hopefully when the weather gets warmer, a little bit better performance on the mound.”