Hard-throwing Kunz on fast track to bigs

OMAHA, Neb. — Forget about appearance. Eddie Kunz had a 90 mph fastball.

That was in high school when he stood 6-foot-3 and weighed 265.

"He was a big fat kid who couldn't throw a strike," said a smiling Dan Spencer, the Oregon State pitching coach. "But he committed himself. I'm so proud of Eddie, the steps he's made in his career."

Kunz, trimmed and fit at 6-5, 250 pounds, is OSU's closer with a fastball that gets upward of 95 mph at times. He also mixes in a slider and change-up.

"You don't have that many guys out there at 95 mph with that kind of movement," Spencer said.

Kunz has thrown only nine pitches for the Beavers in the 2007 College World Series. He faced two batters, giving up a single and then getting the final out to close a 3-2 victory over Cal State Fullerton Saturday.

Kunz, who lowered his ERA to 2.91, didn't pitch in Monday's 12-6 romp over Arizona State, although he said he was ready just in case the Sun Devils continued to rally in the final three innings.

"I was definitely ready to go yesterday," he said. 'In the mind of a closer, you have to be ready everyday."

Meanwhile, he's developed confidence in his own ability.

"I think I've done very well," Kunz said prior to Tuesday's practice during an earned off day. "I've been more consistent with my pitches."

He has a 3-1 record with a dozen saves in 30 appearances for the 46-18 Beavers, the defending CWS champions.

"It's definitely satisfying and I feel really good about our season," he said, referring to the team's third straight berth in the CWS. "A lot of people didn't have confidence in us."

The junior isn't planning on being with the Beavers next season, hoping to sign with the New York Mets after the CWS.

"That's a long way off and I'm not thinking about that," said Kunz, a two-way end in football and a center in basketball at Parkrose High School in Portland. "But I'm definitely ready to go. It's been my dream. Ever since I was little, I wanted to do it."

Has he heard from the Mets, who selected him in the first round as the 42nd overall selection?

"Besides congratulations and good luck in Omaha, that's about it," he said.

OSU coach Pat Casey remembers watching the then-huge Kunz pitch in the final game of a summer program in Portland. The bases were loaded and, Casey said, the umpire made "a horrible call" and the winning run was walked home.

"Eddie walked off the field and as he got to the chalk he threw his glove right over the backstop," Casey said. "I thought, 'Wow, is this guy going to be fun to work with.'"

That's all in the past, and today Kunz will be ready to go against either Arizona State or UC Irvine with a berth in the championship series on the line. If the Beavers lose, they get one more shot Thursday night.

"He's made a lot of progress," said catcher Mitch Canham, who also was drafted in the first round (57th overall by San Diego). "Before, I didn't know where the ball was going. Now I've got a lot of confidence in him.

"He's got a lot of arm strength."

Enough, Spencer believes, to get him to the major leagues.

"He's going to have a nice bank account and a nice big-league career," Spencer said.

NOTES: Eric Sogard, the ASU second baseman, was impressed with OSU starter Mike Stutes, who threw six-plus innings and allowed only three singles to the Sun Devils before tiring. "He really started out hot," Sogard said. "He had some good stuff (Monday)." ... SS Darwin Barney and several teammates and coaches repeated the message that the Beavers were much better in the postseason than on the weekend they were swept by ASU at home in May. "We're not the same club," said Barney. "We were in a little skid at the time." ... There will be no letting up by the Beavers, who know they need only one victory to get to the best-of-three final while UC Irvine and ASU both needed three to get there going into their battle Tuesday night. "We're going to keep the throttle down," said OSU coach Pat Casey. "We're going to come out and play hard." ... OSU players missed almost two weeks of school while participating in the NCAA tournament. Thus, 34 finals had to be taken in Omaha. Said Casey, "I don't think people realize how difficult it is to be a student-athlete."

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