TAMPA, Fla. – For starting pitcher Brandon Knarr, the long baseball road back brought him to the University of Tampa.
The former left-hander for the Division I Notre Dame Fighting Irish has seen a lot since his high school days.
Growing up in York, Pa., Knarr attended Eastern York High School. After not playing as a freshman, he breezed through the following three years, setting a school record with 289 career strikeouts.
“I think it was just a lot of, you know, just understanding what I was trying to do each year and going out there and trying to give the team an opportunity to win,” Knarr said, standing in foul territory before batting practice on Tuesday afternoon. “It ended up being that way and it was pretty exciting afterwards.”
But as a freshman at Notre Dame, Knarr struggled, with 5 2/3 innings over 12 relief appearances. He decided he needed help and transferred to the College of Central Florida, a junior college, to work with pitching coach Zach Bove, now in the Minnesota Twins organization.
“That was the deciding factor for me,” Knarr said. “(Bove) was really good on all the new-age analytics and kind of helping me basically right off the bat, even after my initial bullpen I threw there.
“So it was … a big motivating factor to get out of the cold weather and get with a coach of that calibre.”
After going 6-1 in 13 starts with 86 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings at CCF, Knarr made the move to UT. Head coach Joe Urso started him in the opening game of the 2020 season. He has 64 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings over six starts.
“We were very happy when he chose to come here out of (junior) college,” Urso said. “His biggest thing was just throwing more strikes, and he has, you know, just dominated every Friday. Really, the amount of strikeouts that he’s been throwing up is unheard of.”
While it’s a small sample size, Knarr has executed at every step this season. He credits the Tampa coaching staff for preparing the game plan.
“I think I’ve trusted coach Sam’s game plan and the way we attack hitters here and it’s worked out really well,” Knarr said, referring to pitching coach Militello. “I’ve been able to get on the inner half a lot more than I have in years past.
“That’s kind of helped to set up my breaking ball and open up away a little bit more and get some more swinging misses upstairs.”
Knarr is taking everything in stride. While his start to the season has turned heads, there is no jumping ahead for the Keystone State native with his eventual goals.
“I think it’s just trying to keep getting better each day,” he said. “I think as you keep going through, the more you get into baseball, the more you keep going, the more you realize you still have so much to work on.
“At the end of the day, whenever my careers end, that’s when I’ll be able to evaluate how well I reached my goals.”
NOTE: In a previous version of this story, the name of the CCF pitching coach was incorrect. The Observer apologizes for the error.