An arm injury that Alexandria’s Jake Drew suffered in the spring of 2016 is firmly in the rearview mirror now, and it’s allowed Drew to settle into a role for the North Dakota State University baseball team.
“At the beginning of this season, my arm probably felt the best it ever has,” Drew said. “I was making sure I was keeping my arm healthy with strengthening where it needs to be for the amount of innings I was going to pitch this year.”
Drew had Tommy John surgery on his right throwing elbow in 2016. A starting pitcher in his early high school career, he settled into a closer role out of the bullpen for Alexandria in 2017 to help the Cardinals to the state tournament.
Drew has never left the bullpen, and it’s a role that has fit him well. Through the years, it has saved innings on his arm as he has gotten back to feeling strong and 100% effective again.
“With my surgery, I don’t think my arm could handle the stamina of pitching a whole game,” Drew said. “So I think the reliever role is best for me. I can go in and throw one or two innings, throw as hard as I need. That’s kind of been my go-to is being a guy who comes in and steps up on the mound and it’s just, ‘Here it comes, hit it.’”
Settling into a role
Drew has worked to find his fit within the NDSU bullpen since he was a freshman in 2018.
He threw 15 2/3 innings that season and posted a 1-0 record with a 4.02 ERA and 17 strikeouts.
“My freshman year fall was the hardest transition,” he said. “I was like, ‘These guys are two and three years older than me. They’re a lot better than me.’ Once I got settled in and they started putting me in real game situations my freshman spring, I think I got a lot better as a pitcher.”
Drew’s sophomore season included 15 appearances and 24 2/3 innings. He posted a 4.74 ERA with 23 strikeouts and nine walks. Now as a junior, Drew was settling into being a guy the Bison (8-9) counted on to get them out of some tough spots.
“I was the guy coming in in situations where there’s a guy on first and second with no outs, bases loaded with no outs or one out,” Drew said. “I was a guy looked at to get out of situations like that. I liked stepping up to the challenge.”
Drew had already made six appearances and thrown 10 1/3 innings in 17 games for NDSU before the season came to an end due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was holding batters to a .237 average with 10 strikeouts and four earned runs allowed (3.48 ERA).
Drew worked as many as three innings in an appearance against Northern Colorado on March 7. He also tossed a couple scoreless frames against the University of Minnesota in a Bison win on March 3.
Drew’s fastball was sitting between 89-91 miles-per hour at the beginning of the season. He has gained a lot of confidence in his slider, and is also incorporating a changeup into his mix.
“I enjoy it. I have confidence with the defense behind me, and I was more of a guy trying to get ground balls or pop flies,” Drew said.
Goals for the future
There’s no doubt Drew and the rest of his Bison teammates were disappointed about losing their season early.
NDSU had won five of its last seven games before its scheduled Summit League opener against Omaha on March 13 was canceled. The Bison lost 39 games on their schedule due to the pandemic, with more games being possible, depending on any tournament success the team might have had.
“The hardest part is we were rolling pretty good,” Drew said. “We had a really good chance of competing for that Summit League title. I thought that was the most heartbreaking part. We had everything flowing between the hitters, the pitchers, our defense. We were just putting it together right when we started conference play, and that’s what bummed all of us out the most.”
Drew and other spring athletes were granted another year of athletic eligibility by the NCAA after the season was canceled. Whether or not an athlete uses that extra year depends a lot on the individual. Drew said he has declared himself a junior again heading into next season, but he is uncertain if he will use the extra year in baseball with being on track to graduate next year.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.
Before he leaves NDSU, he wants to be a part of bringing a conference championship back to Fargo for the baseball program.
“An ideal season (next year) would be winning a Summit League championship,” Drew said. “We haven’t done that since 2014, and that’s the overall goal.”