An unlikely star, Fehmel shines on mound
CORVALLIS — Through four seasons on the mound for Oregon State, Bryce Fehmel has been as steady, dependable and enduring as the Michelin Man.
Toiling in the shadows of such pitchers as Drew Rasmussen, Luke Heimlich, Jake Thompson and Kevin Abel, Fehmel never has been the ace of an OSU staff. All he has done is win baseball games.
As the Saturday starter for the Beavers, Fehmel is 5-0 with a 3.54 ERA in nine starts this season. Opponents are hitting only .192 with 40 hits, 10 walks and 40 strikeouts in 56 innings.
"There have been some good (outings); there have been some shaky ones; there have been some average ones," Fehmel says. "The main thing for me is to keep putting zeroes on the board and letting our offense put up some runs."
Fehmel has done that to near perfection through his college career. The 6-2, 205-pound right-hander from Agoura Hills, California, sports an overall record of 31-5. For pitchers with more than 20 wins, Fehmel owns the best winning percentage in school history (.861). He ranks third on the OSU career win list, behind Heimlich and Ben Wetzler (36 apiece). Fehmel has a legitimate shot to pass them by the end of the season.
"It would be a crazy run, back from where it started and how far I've come," Fehmel says. "It would be a real honor to be on the top of that list."
Fehmel is the unlikeliest of pitching stars in the Pac-12. He was a third baseman in high school.
"I rarely pitched," he says. "I'd come in to close games, but I only got a handful of innings (as a pitcher) in my last three years. Not one start."
He was a good enough infielder and hitter to attract interest from several Division I programs, including Oregon, San Diego and Cal Santa Barbara, before choosing OSU.
"I wanted to get away from home," Fehmel says. "Oregon State has the best program around. When I came on my unofficial and official (recruiting) visits, the coaches and the players were all welcoming. This place here is special. The fans are welcoming. It was a no-brainer for me."
But Fehmel arrived at the same time as infielders Cadyn Grenier and Nick Madrigal, who wound up forming the Beavers' keystone combination for three years. And Michael Gretler was entrenched at third.
"We thought we might need some help in the bullpen and it would be a chance for him to get on the field a little quicker," pitching coach Nate Yeskie says. "So not long after he got here, we offered the chance to become a full-time pitcher."
"I was all aboard right away," Fehmel says. "I didn't see very many opportunities for me as an infielder, considering we were loaded there. I wanted to help the team any way I could, really."
All Fehmel did as a freshman in 2016 was go 10-1 in 26 appearances — 20 in relief — and lead the team in victories and ERA (2.31). After going 6-3 with a 3.87 ERA as a sophomore, Fehmel was 10-1 with a 3.19 ERA last year, earning all-Pac-12 honors while helping the Beavers claim their third national championship since 2006.
This season, Fehmel has taken up where he left off.
"It's pretty crazy," he says. "Thinking back to my freshman year when I was taking groundballs with Nick and Cadyn, to see myself where I am right now on the mound — it's definitely special."
Fehmel's fastball is probably below average for a Pac-12 starter.
"On a good day, he tops out at 91 (miles per hour)," Yeskie says. "More often, he is in the upper 80s."
So how does Fehmel get it done?
"He throws the ball where it needs to be thrown more often than not," Yeskie says. "He has an ability to command both sides of the plate and throw three pitches. He maniputes his breaking ball a little bit — sometimes a little harder, sometimes softer. Between a hybrid slider, fastball and changeup, he usually finds a way to make it work."
"Two keys for Bryce Fehmel," says Pat Bailey, OSU's interim head coach. "He knows who he is. The second key, he is very confident and very focused. We wouldn't have done what we've done the last three years without him.
"He reminds me of a Greg Maddux/Tom Glavine kind of pitcher. He's not going to overpower you. He'll add and subtract (speeds), move you up and down. He's going to make you a comfortable 0 for 4. That's a great compliment for him. You look at him warming up, you think, 'I can hit this guy.' Before you know it, you're 0 for 4."
"He's blue collar," Yeskie says. "He reminds me of the factory worker who gets his job done every day and, 50 years later, he's still plugging away and getting it done. Programs thrive when they have people like Bryce. He is a consummate professional. I'm pleased with how he has handled all the things we've thrown at him."
As Bailey says, Fehmel knows who he is as a pitcher.
"If I don't have command, I can get myself in trouble with hitters, get in fastball counts where they can do some damage," he says. "If I have command of two or three pitches on any given day, I think I can give us a good start.
"I love to compete. I love to get after somebody in any way I can. Our program is built on a competitive nature. That stems from 'Case' (former head coach Pat Casey), the years he was here, and it has continued with 'Bailes.' I've been able to compete on a daily and weekly basis in pretty much everything I do — in a classroom, what I eat, in the gym, out here on the field."
All-America catcher Adley Rutschman has been Fehmel's battery mate the past three seasons.
"There is really no one like Bryce," Rutschman says. "He is always going to be the same, be consistent no matter what kind of outing he has. Not any one particular pitch or at-bat is going to affect the way he pitches.
"He doesn't have electric stuff, but he is a guy who competes every time he gets on the mound. That's why he is so much fun to catch."
Fehmel calls Yeskie "the best in the business. Having him on my back and working with me and for me on every pitch is special."
As for Rutschman, Fehmel offers this: "As hard as it is to believe, he has gotten better every single year. Adley has been a big part of this team and a big part of our pitching staff. He knows what he needs to do with each guy in order to get things lined up correctly. When he needs to light a fire under us, he knows how to do that as well."
Fehmel was the second member of his family to earn a national baseball championship. Older brother Brady was center fielder for the Trinity team from San Antonio, Texas, that took the 2016 NCAA Division III title.
What was the experience like for Bryce after claiming last year's College World Series crown?
"Something I can't really put into words," he says. "It was a feeling the team shares that we will carry with us the rest of our lives."
Fehmel, 22, went undrafted after last season. There are no guarantees it will happen this June, either.
"I want to play at the next level," says Fehmel, who will graduate with a 3.3 grade-point average in marketing this spring. "It's been a goal of mine to get drafted. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. If there is a team that's interested in me, I'd be happy to go play for them. If not, I'd love to help a program coaching at some level."
What will Fehmel cherish most about his time at Oregon State?
"The friendships I've made," he says. "They've been special up and down the board — the coaching staff, teammates, the fans, the younger kids who come to the games. I'll always remember that."
Even if he doesn't pitch professionally, OSU fans will remember the guy with the long red hair flopping out the back of his cap, consistently getting outs and victories for the Beavers.
"It's mind-boggling what Bryce has accomplished, especially with a guy you brought in to play the infield and you flipped him over," Yeskie says. "It hasn't been glitzy. He doesn't move the needle because he's not throwing a 97-mile-per-hour fastball. He shows up, does his job and doesn't draw any attention to himself. At the end of the day, you look up at the scoreboard and he has given you a great effort."
Yeskie isn't surprised that Fehmel is one of 10 national finalists for the 2019 Senior CLASS award in college baseball, honoring excellence in the community, classroom, character and competition.
"It doesn't matter whether he has pitched well or not, because he is the same guy the next day or for the next start," the OSU pitching coach says. "He is going to pull for his teammates. He is going to help the young guys get better. He is a good student and a tremendous young man. I can't say enough good things about Bryce Fehmel."