NEW MARKET – Christian Horner sees the looks.
The New Market Rebels relief pitcher sees the double-takes, the laughs, as he first comes out to warm-up each game in the Valley Baseball League. Whether it’s from fans in the stands or opposing batters, Horner’s throwing style surprises many who watch him.
“I have seen a few good reactions when I first get on the mound,” Horner said. “Maybe someone who hasn’t seen me before – like kind of a twitch of the head or something like that. It is fun. But batters here are all gamers – as everyone has picked up on it. So once they get in the box, it’s game time. But I do sometimes do look around when I’m warming up to see some reactions. I should probably stop doing that at this point and time.”
Horner is a left-handed sidearm pitcher with a big leg kick. Horner said most of his life he has thrown the conventional way of over the top.
Horner said he was struggling to get noticed by recruits and was even beginning to wonder if he would even be able to play at the collegiate level. Then a few years ago his high school coach at Keswick Christian School in St. Petersburg, Florida, suggested he change his arm slot. Horner said he dropped his arm slot down a little and kept tinkering with it until he became a sidearm pitcher.
“I just started slowly improving just like I remember I did learning to throw over the top the first time – just making slight improvements here and there,” Horner said. “ I feel like my coaches in high school really helped me. And then my private instructor that I went to – he helped me a lot, too. Then finally some schools started taking notice.”
Horner said he enjoys pitching as a sidearm thrower and he thinks it’s been working well for him.
“I throw a two-seam fastball, a slider and split-finger change-up – it’s been working out pretty well so far,” Horner said. “I had to change a few grips but it’s been fun. As of late, I’ve been more of a strikeout pitcher, I think, and I don’t know that I need to be. I would say most sidearmers try to pitch to contact. And I’d say that one day I’ll probably learn to make that my bread and butter.”
New Market Rebels pitching coach Josh Merrigan said Horner has been effective for the team this season.
“With throwing sidearm, a lot of times with those guys there is a lack of control,” Merrigan said. “With (Horner), that hasn’t been an issue. The control has been good. He is obviously a tough match-up for left-handed hitters, which that’s a very obvious point. But the righties – he’s been able to get a lot of righties out as well.”
Horner played his freshman season at Palm Beach Atlantic University last year but did not get much playing time. He said the Division II school had a lot of good pitchers so he knew from the start last year would be more of a learning season for him.
Horner threw 3.2 innings in five appearances and struck out four with a 9.82 Earned Run Average.
He said he learned a lot from the pitchers at Palm Beach Atlantic, located in Palm Beach, Florida.
“We had four to six arms that were draftable,” Horner said. “So I spent a good portion of the year watching them and learning from them, picking their brains. And I still have kept in contact with them just about pitching and throwing pitches, getting hitters out, eliminating annoying base runners.”
The 6-foot-2 Horner said he jumped at the chance to play for New Market after talking with Rebels’ head coach Matt Schaeffer on the phone.
Since Horner had such limited playing time in his first year in college, Schaeffer said they weren’t sure what to expect from him. Schaeffer said he’s done everything they could ask from him.
“He’s a very competitive kid,” Schaeffer said. “He’s a great piece to what we’re able to do. He goes about it the right way on a daily basis. So he’s been a lot of fun to have around. He’s definitely proved his worth. If there was any proving ground for him — he’s done that. I think he would say the same thing.”
Horner has pitched in the most games this season for the Rebels. He has appeared in 18 games and has thrown 25.1 innings with a 3.55 ERA. He leads the team with 31 strikeouts and has a 2-1 record.
Much like it took some time for Horner to get used to throwing sidearm, he said it’s also taken him some time to get used to being a reliever after being a starting pitcher his whole life.
“It was a huge mental struggle – not having as much time to prepare for games, getting thrown into games maybe with a runner on,” Horner said. “And also, being a starter you’re looked at more for consistency, length. And as a reliever, especially late in games, you get more looked at as someone to get you out of a situation. So honestly, mentally it’s completely different than starting.”
The Rebels are 17-23 and are tied with Winchester for third place in the North Division. The top four teams from each division make the playoffs, which start on Sunday.
Horner said he’s enjoyed being on the team and being around his teammates. He said the team chemistry has been great and he thinks the team can have success at the end of the season.
“There’s a lot of passionate personalities that we have on the team that I feel like, when time starts to roll out, I think we’re going to do a lot of good things,” Horner said. “The expectation is to win the whole thing – that’s the goal. I’d say it’s an achievable goal.”
No matter what happens at the end of the season for the Rebels, Horner has found his pitching game and is now confident in his abilities as a sidearmer.
“I think it’s maintainable,” he said. I feel like my delivery is repeatable. Consistency is something that I look for. And I think I found that with where I am at now. I think it took me this summer to figure out the three things that I just said just because of the limited playing time I got playing in college. So I think it’s going to work for me. “