baseball

Freshman right-handed pitcher CJ Mayhue on the mound earlier in the season.

Not every freshman can do what East Carolina University freshman left-handed pitcher CJ Mayhue did in his initial collegiate campaign. Anchoring a bullpen full of veteran relievers like redshirt senior right-handed pitchers Cam Colmore and Matt Bridges, Mayhue flashed the ability to compete at the highest level in Division I baseball.

Across 16 innings in a season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 5’11” Mayhue limited opponents to 12 hits and only one earned run. Good enough for a 0.56 ERA, the southpaw racked up 19 strikeouts (10.7 K/9) while walking just six and allowing only one extra base hit.

“His ceiling is very high,” ECU head baseball coach Cliff Godwin said. “He’s got a couple things that really allow him to have success. No. 1, he’s not scared. It doesn’t matter who’s in the box or what the situation is, he thinks he’s got the ability to get that person out.”

On full display during his collegiate debut against The College of William & Mary on Feb. 15, Mayhue struck out his first batter on three pitches, all fastballs. Up into the low-90’s, the former Crest High School standout frequently used his heater to work multiple innings in relief out of Godwin’s bullpen.

A starter during his senior year of high school, Mayhue worked two frames in his ECU debut, striking out three batters and allowing just one hit. In fact, across his first three collegiate outings, he logged two innings each, punching out a trio of batters and amassing pitch counts north of 20.

Working multiple innings in seven of his eight appearances before the season cancellation, Mayhue’s standout performance came on the biggest stage possible, against the University of Mississippi during the Keith LeClair Classic in late-February.

In what was a top-20 nationally ranked matchup at the time, Mayhue was the first out of the bullpen in relief of senior right-handed pitcher Tyler Smith.

Against one of the best power-hitting lineups in the country, the southpaw completely shutdown the Rebels, posting career highs in the process. Called on to finish the fourth inning, Mayhue worked into the seventh inning, striking out six Ole Miss batters and scattering four hits over 3.1 frames.

Needing just 47 pitches to get 10 outs, his performance kept the game at a one-run spread in favor of the Rebels and led to his manager calling his work “outstanding” during a postgame interview.

Drafted in the 36th round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft in 2019 by the Seattle Mariners, Mayhue instead decided to increase his draft stock by honoring his commitment to ECU. Bringing with him a solid three pitch mix of fastball, slider and changeup, he has displayed a feeling for all three offerings in his short time in Greenville.

Not scared to throw his fastball to both sides of the plate, Mayhue tricks batters into believing his fastball has mid-90’s velocity with a fast arm action. With his off-speed and breaking delievies, that action allows his changeup and slider to look like a fastball until the very last second when it is already too late for the hitter.

“He’s got a really good fastball, really good changeup,” Godwin said. “The thing that he needs to continue to do is develop his slider. It was OK at times, but I think it can become an out pitch.”

As a lefty, Mayhue could unlock another effective weapon if he continues to develop his slider. At times showing depth, it will allow him to pitch against right-handed batters with ease as hitters would also have to contend with his big fastball and nasty changeup.

On pace for roughly 26 appearances, Mayhue was on track to become the first ECU freshman pitcher to post a sub-1.00 ERA (minimum 30 innings) in program history. Additionally, the southpaw was well on his way to amassing gaudy strikeout numbers, something he accomplished in his final year at Crest by punching out 117 batters as a senior.

While Mayhue will not get the chance to rival some ECU freshman records, he did do enough to be tabbed as the 16th-best rookie pitcher by D1Baseball. Using a mixture of metrics that include zone control, pitch ability and durability, the publication gave Mayhue an overall score of 86.2 and a 90.9 rating in the pitch ability category.

A deep group, ECU’s pitching staff compiled a 3.12 ERA and struck out 171 batters across 153 innings pitched. Individually, four Pirate pitchers amassed a sub-1.00 ERA, led by Colmore who failed to allow a run in 12.1 innings. Mayhue was not far behind, limiting opponents to just one earned run over 16 innings and holding them to a .203 batting average.

“He (Mayhue) throws strikes and he’s got good stuff so the ceiling is very high for him,” Godwin said.

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