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Texas A&M Baseball

Dugout Chat: Killer mindset takes Mitchell Kilkenny to another level

March 8, 2018

(Click "play" above to listen to the Dugout Chat in full.)

What piece am I missing?

That’s the question Mitchell Kilkenny asked himself this past summer. Coming off a solid sophomore campaign where he went 3-3 with a 3.67 ERA splitting time between the starting rotation and the bullpen, Kilkenny was not satisfied.

He sought out the advice of his coaches, asking them what he could do to take his game to the next level.

“I went up to them and asked ‘What’s holding me back from being great instead of just good?’” Kilkenny says in this week’s Dugout Chat. “Across the board, they said ‘You have to go out there ready to fight someone — make it personal.’

“In the past, I’ve been told sometimes you can tell whenever I go out on the mound and I’m trying to really beat someone, and when I’m just going out there to make the pitches I need to make. I made the transition from just making pitches to going and getting people out and having a very aggressive mentality toward each hitter.”

Mitchell Kilkenny has been possibly the Aggies best pitcher so far in 2018, and much of his success can be attributed to a change in mentality. 

That change in mentality has yielded tremendous dividends for the junior righty through three starts in 2018. Kilkenny is 3-0 with a minuscule 1.83 ERA to go along with an otherworldly 22:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Ever since he came to Texas A&M as a walk-on out of Houston three years ago, Kilkenny has possessed superb command. He did not throw real hard growing up, which forced him to develop pinpoint control to stay effective as he got older. That control is what impressed the A&M coaching staff enough to offer him a walk-on spot after seeing him pitch one time during his senior year of high school, and that control also allowed him to put up back-to-back impressive seasons to start his college career.

But since his attitude adjustment, Kilkenny has been nearly unhittable as he has perfectly blended that command with a more aggressive style of pitching.

“The difference to this point in his junior year is his willingness to go out and compete,” says A&M head coach Rob Childress. “More often than not, as a freshman and sophomore, he just said, ‘I’m going to go out and make pitches and whatever happens happens.’

I think him understanding that when he can flip a switch and make it personal, make it competitive, he’s got a chance to take his very, very good stuff and make it great.”
- A&M head coach Rob Childress

“There’s been a change in his mindset, his attitude, his competitiveness when he’s on the mound this season more so than any other. I think him understanding that when he can flip a switch and make it personal, make it competitive, he’s got a chance to take his very, very good stuff and make it great.”

His teammates, who call him “Killer,” started noticing Kilkenny living up to his nickname more throughout the fall and into spring practice, but it went to a new level when he toed the rubber for the first time of the season against Rhode Island.

“Once I walked down there on the first Sunday, I looked at him and he gave me the head nod like ‘Let’s go,’” recalls junior catcher Cole Bedford. “He had that look in his eyes like he was ready to throw down, and he’s been lights out since.”

Kilkenny shut down Rhode Island to the tune of four hits, two runs and seven strikeouts in 6.1 innings, then carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Cornell. He followed that up with arguably his most impressive start to this point, a gem against a potent California lineup.

He struck out seven, walked none and allowed only four hits in seven innings against the Golden Bears, throwing 115 pitches in the process.

In addition to the fiercer attitude, Kilkenny also looks like a more physically imposing presence on the mound. He did not pick up a baseball this summer, choosing instead to work out in College Station with A&M’s strength and conditioning coach, Jeremy McMillan. He worked out four or five times a week, started on a new diet and let his arm recover from all the bullets he expended late in the season.

“I’ve always been a little bit behind as far as strength, for whatever reason, so I wanted to stay back and work on that so I could stay injury-free,” says Kilkenny, who has put on over 20 pounds of muscle since his freshman year. “I know how important it is to have muscle strength, endurance and all that.”

Kilkenny’s breakout performance shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, however.

He put together a splendid season in 2017, saving a team-high seven games after moving to the bullpen and logging one of the Aggies’ most impressive outings of the season in the Super Regional against Davidson. Kilkenny pitched 5.2 scoreless innings of relief in that extra-inning affair, keeping the Aggies in the game and allowing them to ultimately win on a walk-off single by George Janca.

Marc Flores, TexAgs
Kilkenny played a massive role in the Aggies' run to Omaha in 2017, most notably with his incredible 5.2-inning relief appearance against Davidson in the College Station Super Regional. 

When the Aggies blew a few late leads early in the season, Kilkenny moved from the Sunday starter role to the back-end of the bullpen, where his fastball velocity ticked up into the mid-90s and he became a dominant reliever.

“If he doesn’t make that decision to say, ‘I’ll do whatever I can to help the team win,’ we don’t get to a Regional last year,” Childress says. “I truly believe that. Had he gone to the bullpen with a half-hearted commitment, maybe he only saves three games and we don’t go to a Regional.

“He was a huge part of our staff and his heroic performance in the Super Regional sometimes gets overlooked. What he did allowed us to win that game, so he may have been the unsung hero of the whole pitching staff. To say he didn’t have a wonderful, special year last year as a sophomore would be totally missing the mark.”

Says Bedford: “He did great as a starter and Coach just asked him to move to the ‘pen, and he’s one of those guys that doesn’t complain. Whatever Coach wants and whatever gives the team the best chance to win, that’s what he’ll do and I think that’s why everyone in the clubhouse respects him.”

That velocity Kilkenny flashed as a closer in 2017 has carried over into this season, providing him with plenty of ammunition to get batters out. He leaned heavily on his cutter — which is essentially a slider thrown at the speed of a cut-fastball — as a sophomore, but Childress did not allow him to throw it in the fall in hopes that he would be forced to develop the other pitches in his arsenal.

He has done just that, and now he boasts a dynamic four-pitch mix to keep opposing hitters off-balance. Kilkenny has also started elevating his fastball more this year than in the past, changing the hitter’s eye level and making his offspeed pitches even more devastating.

"I think he's just been fabulous for us," Bedford says. “He’s been working hard on his curveball, it’s really good too and now he’s a four-pitch guy. He can throw those in any count, and that’s what you want out of your weekend guys.”

Kilkenny, a fourth-generation Aggie, almost didn’t make it to Texas A&M coming out of high school. The Houston Christian product had committed to LSU as a walk-on over some offers from smaller Division I schools, but before his senior year, he decided Baton Rouge was not where he belonged. He re-opened his recruitment and, thanks to his high school coach's relationship with Childress, was able to pitch in front of the A&M staff at a camp in January of his senior year.

Kilkenny threw what he describes as one of the best sessions of his life and ultimately accepted the challenge of walking on for the Aggies. 

“He came to camp and it was pretty evident he had a simple, repeatable delivery and the ability to command the fastball to both sides of the plate,” Childress says. “Kind of a no-doubter.

“At that time all we had to offer was an opportunity, and he came in and made the most of it.”

Kilkenny, who has since earned a scholarship, will look to continue his early-season excellence when he takes the ball again on Sunday, March 11, for the series finale against Long Beach State.

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Dugout Chat: Killer mindset takes Mitchell Kilkenny to another level

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