Illinois catcher Jason Goldstein (Illinois Athletics)


Jason Goldstein: The Man Behind The Curtain

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It’s been more than two months since Illinois lost the opener of a weekend series, and most of the time, Kevin Duchene’s been the story. The 6-foot-2 junior lefty had his worst start of the season against Nebraska.

Duchene’s worst start of the year, in case you were curious, involved six shutout innings to start the night, before a rash of wildness and a mistake to Nebraska third baseman Blake Headley led to a season-high three runs in the seventh. Offensively, the Illini spread their eight hits one each through the first eight hitters in their lineup, the loudest being a fourth-inning home run by Pat McInerney, en route to a 6-3 win.

Kendall Rogers covered Duchene’s game in depth when Duchene took Ohio State’s lunch money two Fridays ago, but some elements bear repeating. Duchene worked through Nebraska’s order three times using a fastball, a changeup and a slider, and despite the conditions, his command was impressive.

Duchene used his slider, a pitch in the low-80s with late horizontal life, on the backdoor to righties, as a chase pitch, and on the outside corner to lefties, enticing them to swing before pulling the ball back, just enough and just in time to avoid contact, again and again and again. If you did to a dog what Duchene does to lefthanded batters, strangers who walked by would yell at you for being cruel.

Duchene’s repertoire gives the distinct impression that there’s a man inside the baseball, steering it straight, left or right at the last moment, depending on the situation.

And that’s not a wholly inaccurate impression. But the person calling the pitches isn’t head coach Dan Hartleb or pitching coach Drew Dickinson–it’s catcher Jason Goldstein, a 21-year-old junior in his third season as the Illini’s backstop. For all but a handful of pitches every game, Goldstein pulls the strings on Illinois’ outstanding pitching staff.

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