By: Shane Petagna (The University of Tampa)
Miami’s Rafe Schlesinger has blossomed into one of the Cotuit Kettleers’ most reliable relievers in 2023. Leading the bullpen arms with 14 2/3 innings pitched and a 1.84 ERA, he has created a great presence on the mound.
The biggest endorsement of his pitching ability from the Cotuit coaching staff came on Saturday against the Harwich Mariners, where he entered the game in the bottom of the eighth inning to hold the score at 2-2 in his second straight game.
“Well, that's something I told Roberts I'd be good for,” said Schlesinger. “And I think he was kind of happy with that because he's been talking to the bullpen about that. Guys got to be ready back-to-back days.”
The southpaw struck out left-handed batter Matt Scannell (Princeton) with his devastating slider to hold the Mariners at two runs before exiting the game in the top of the ninth inning after a single and fielder’s choice ground out. In his most recent appearance on Wednesday, Schlesinger struck out four more batters, including three left-handers on the breaking ball.
“That was a situation where it kind of aligned for me. I appreciate that because I know the night before I wasn't happy with the performance, I gave up a run in one inning’s worth of work,” said Schlesinger of his appearance in Harwich on Saturday. “So him going back to me just shows that he believes in me and I appreciate it.”
Schlesinger has always been a force on the mound, coming out of Sachem East High School in Holbrook, New York. He was a four-year letterman and posted an 0.70 ERA and struck out 80 batters in his senior year, which earned him the Carl Yastrzemski Award given to the best player in Suffolk County. Players like CCBL Hall of Famer Marcus Stroman and major leaguer Steven Matz have earned the same honor.
“Long Island has never been a hotbed for baseball talent like all those southern states and California,” said Schlesinger. “Being one of those guys that even get put on a list with Stroman or Matz is really humbling. It's like a nine-year-old dream of mine that I never thought I'd be achieving.”
His performance in high school led him to the University of Miami where he’s had solid contributions in the bullpen for the Hurricanes. Schlesinger has a career 3.38 ERA as a reliever over his first two seasons and excelled against wood bats last summer with the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks of the NECBL.
As teammates with Cam Hill on the 2022 championship team, Schlesinger posted a 2.73 ERA in 29 1/3 innings pitched over seven games and five starts. Now in the CCBL and producing some of his best stats as a collegiate baseball player, Schlesinger is still evolving.
The biggest change he made this summer was with his arm slot.
“That was something that I worked on with J.D. [Artega] at Miami. We were kind of going back and forth with what slot, whether I was going over the top or sidearm, so finding kind of like a happy medium,” said Schlesinger. “And here I talked to [Coach] Roberts about a little bit and I decided it was best to stay over the top and then when I need one, if I'm in a battle with a guy, drop one in there sidearm to get a different look in.”
The adjustment has been put to good work, especially regarding his control. Schlesinger has put up his best walks per nine innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio as a collegiate pitcher.
“I think that's the biggest thing that we look for is not only throwing strikes but the competitive nature of him to go out there and do his job. I think that's what gives us the trust because we know that he's very consistent,” said pitching coach Andrew Shreiner. “He's going to do that every single outing. And the big thing that Coach Roberts talks about is body control, and that's a big thing that he has when he's out there. He's not all over the place.”
However, one of the most remarkable things about Schlesinger is that all the success he’s seen on the mound comes while dealing with Tourette’s.
“I don't really notice it when I'm playing. But I've seen videos and I noticed that my head twitches a little bit and my eyes. So once I come set and I'm ready to throw that pitch, I lock in and it seems to go away,” said Schlesinger. “It's kind of cool how that works. But do I feel it? Yeah, a little bit, but when I'm locked in, I'm ready to go. I turn into a whole new person.”