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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Baseball

Focused and determined: Robert Gasser’s preparation key to his success


Robert Gasser has been the ace of UH baseball's rotation in 2021, posting a 2.19 ERA and striking out over seven batters a game. | Andy Yanez/The Cougar

Robert Gasser has been the ace of UH baseball’s rotation in 2021, posting a 2.19 ERA and striking out over seven batters a game. | Andy Yanez/The Cougar

Before coming to Houston, Robert Gasser had been the man in junior college, frustrating batters left and right every time he took the bump.

Gasser, who began his college career at New Mexico in 2018, transferred to Delta College in 2019 and pitched to perfection, going 14-0 with a 2.38 ERA and striking out 139  in 17 starts, which set a California single-season record for wins and strikeouts.

As a result, the California native racked up every accolade imaginable, being named the American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings National Pitcher of the Year, California Pitcher of the Year and Big 8 Pitcher of the Year.

The bigger the stakes, the better (Gasser) got. The more focused he got, said Reed Peters, Gasser’s manager at Delta College. Everybody fed off of his competitiveness, enthusiasm and passion when he went out on the field.

But Gasser struggled to carry over his success at Delta to UH. In the 2020 shortened season, the 6-foot-1-inch left-hander made four appearances out of the bullpen and allowed at least two runs each time he took the mound, posting an ERA of 11.05 on the season.

As a result, Gasser wasn’t even on UH baseball head coach Todd Whitting’s radar to be a weekend starter when the Cougars began their fall workouts and practices in September 2020.

That, however, didn’t deter Gasser. He continued to work on his craft day after day, which slowly began to pay off as the UH coaching staff started to rethink what Gasser’s role would be in December, believing the junior left-hander might have a spot in the Cougars weekend rotation.

Gasser just kept working and working, and every outing and scrimmages he got a little better, Whitting said.

After winter break. when practices for the upcoming season officially began, it only took a few weeks for one thing to become clear: the guy who came into the year not expected to even hold down a starting spot in the rotation would not only be a starter for the Cougars but would anchor the rotation.

“By the time we got a couple of weeks into practice (Gasser) was a no-brainer for Friday nights because he was pitching so well,” Whitting said.

But how did Gasser go from a guy whose role in the UH pitching staff was completely up in the air, to the guy that took the ball every Friday night under the lights and go toe-to-toe with some of the top pitchers in the country?

Both Whitting and Gasser said the same thing: preparation.

“(Gasser’s) preparation has given him confidence, and I think that’s been his biggest turnaround,” Whitting said. “I think the consistency he shows in his outings is the consistency he’s shown in his preparation since back in August. He works with intent and pitches with intent.”

Gasser’s preparation, both mentally and physically, going into each start has risen to the next level.

Physically, Gasser has become a gym rat.

“(Gasser’s) fallen in love with the weight room and has become one of the strongest guys on the team,” Whitting said.

Even after throwing 100 or more pitches on a Friday night, Gasser is back in the weight room lifting and does a lot of throwing the next day.

Gasser understands that what he does Saturday through Thursday is crucial if he is to be successful when he takes the mound, so he takes every opportunity to keep his body in the best shape and as healthy as possible.

“It comes down to the week prior,” Gasser said. “Getting into the training room with Korey Brown, our trainer. Just keeping my body right. Keeping it as healthy as possible.”

Mentally, Gasser is intentional in everything he does.

One of Gasser’s first things after a start is looking at a chart with his first-pitch strike percentage, because UH pitching coaches always emphasize how important getting ahead early in the count is.

“Getting ahead with the fastball and having really good fastball command is what’s going to separate the good from the great,” Gasser said.

As his start day gets closer, Gasser takes time to specifically focus on his mechanics, especially focusing on his pickoff move and defensive fundamentals, making sure he is executing them to perfection.

Whitting compared Gasser’s mental preparation to taking a test.

It’s kind of like when you take a test. When you go in there and wing it, you’re going to do well sometimes and not so well sometimes. But if you’re prepared every time, you have the confidence to go in there and execute, Whitting said.

“(Gasser’s) just going in there and throwing his pitches and executing them because he’s so prepared.”

Gasser has reaped the rewards from his top-notch preparation.

In eight starts in 2021, Gasser has only allowed 12 earned runs, posting a 2.19 ERA on the season.

On top of that, the Cougars’ ace has had three of the program’s highest strikeout games since 2018, striking out 10, 11, nine and a career-high 12 over a four-game stretch from mid-March to early April.

While Gasser’s success has been one of the top stories for UH baseball this year, the left-hander believes if he continues the same type of determined preparation he shows each week, then not only will his game rise to yet another level, but his teammates will follow in his footsteps to make the Cougars team as a whole better.

“I like to lead by example by how I prepare. I feel like I’m one of the first guys there and one of the last guys to leave pretty much every day,” Gasser said. “Just doing that day in and day out, being relentless with my work ethic. Obviously, the results are what they are and I just want to continue what I’m doing.”

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