Spokane Indians fans who have adopted relief pitcher Johnny Fasola as their favorite player may think he throws like a seasoned professional.
In truth, Fasola is just learning to pitch.
Fasola leads the Indians with four saves and was recently named to the Northwest League’s North Division All-Star team. But he made his mark in high school and early in his college career as a shortstop.
“I didn’t pitch until my senior year (in high school), and it was only closing,” Fasola said. “I … threw as hard as I could, pretty much down the middle. People were swinging out of their shoes and just missing it. I wasn’t really pitching. I was a thrower.”
Fasola used the same strategy when he occasionally pitched during his two seasons at Kansas State University. His part-time mound work might have ended there, but Fasola injured his back while batting and couldn’t get the pain to disappear.
He did, however, disappear from Kansas State, convinced that the program wasn’t right for him; and he was tired of being so far from his home of Hudson, Ohio.
Kent (Ohio) State had recruited Fasola in high school and left the door open for his transfer. It was there that Fasola met coach Mike Birkbeck, a former major league pitcher, and learned the intricacies of pitching.
“‘Birky’ is the one who really taught me how to pitch,” Fasola said. “How to set a hitter up, how to tilt, doubling up, and all the things that I didn’t know existed.”
Fasola injured his arm pitching in a summer league and required Tommy John surgery in October 2012, but he’s been on the mend and on his way since then.
The Texas Rangers selected Fasola in the 31st round of last month’s Major League Draft, five spots higher than the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him in 2010 as a shortstop. Fasola said he had heard he would be selected between rounds 10-15 in 2010, so he followed the earlier rounds until he got frustrated and left the house.
“This year, I didn’t want to sit around watching it,” he said. “So I went golfing with my buddies. … I was taking a nap later when my dad came and woke me up and said, ‘You got drafted.’”
Fasola didn’t know anything about Spokane, but he talked to two Kent State softball players from Washington and received a positive review on the town.
Fasola quickly endeared himself to Indians fans for his quick work on the mound and his tendency to go right after hitters. He has struck out 26 and walked one in 161/3 innings.
“I noticed a couple of outings into the season that it went from, ‘Come on, 44’ to ‘Come on, Johnny’ or ‘Let’s go, Fasola,’” he said of fans’ reactions. “Some people come up and want me to sign something and that’s the coolest thing to me.”
Parents John and Teresa were in town when Fasola struck out six Tri-City Dust Devils in two innings on July 10. Fasola hopes his folks return in early September when the Indians, the NWL North first-half champions, are in the playoffs.
Fasola has two sisters: Jessica, 27, and Jayme, 20.
“My sisters call me John, my dad calls me John, but my mom calls me Johnny,” Fasola said. “Either one is fine, but when I introduce myself I’m Johnny.”