Getting UVA back into postseason brought RHP Harrington back for fifth year

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Early on last season, Chesdin Harrington had the blues. He was struggling on the mound after sitting out the previous year due to injury. His confidence was almost shot.

“I was asking myself if I’m able to pitch here, have I lost something?” Harrington said recently. “I kind of questioned my abilities.”

Virginia’s coaching staff wouldn’t let him give up, and as the season progressed, so did the right-hander’s game. He finished as the Cavaliers’ leader in wins with five and with the staff’s lowest ERA (3.49). By the end of the season he knew he belonged, that he was throwing the ball the way he desired and was giving his team a chance to win.

Heading into the 2020 season, which begins tonight in Pensacola, Fla., with a three-game series against Oklahoma (7 p.m. at Blue Wahoo Stadium, home of the Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins), Harrington is scheduled to start the Saturday afternoon game against the Sooners (5 p.m.).

“Hopefully I can bring whatever role that is, starting or pitching out of the bullpen, going out and giving our team a chance to win every time that I approach the mound this season, knowing that on that pitch, on that day, that I’m the best guy for it and go out and enjoy every experience because these four years flew by and I get the opportunity to do it one more time,” Harrington said.

Competing as a grad student, the Montpelier native (Patrick Henry H.S.) could have moved on and began life after baseball, but he couldn’t. Returning to the baseball team, to finish what he started, played a major role in his decision to come back for one more shot.

“[Baseball] was everything,” Harrington said. “I’m happy to be back and pursuing a master’s degree, but it was definitely baseball that brought me back. At the end of the year I felt like I was throwing the ball pretty well. We ended up not making the tournament for the second year in a row.

“I want nothing more than to get back in the tournament and getting this program where it needs to be. Meeting with Coach (Brian) O’Connor and talking through the options ultimately influenced my decision.”

O’Connor had the least-experienced pitching staff of his career last season when UVA missed out on the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row after having made it for 13 consecutive campaigns in Charlottesville. Certainly the Virginia coach welcomed back an experienced arm like Harrington’s.

As a fifth-year guy, Harrington is the graybeard of the team, a role that he relishes.

“I would say that I have a pretty good connection with some of the younger guys,” he said. “I’m 23 years old now and have an opportunity to be a mentor to some of the younger guys. It give me an opportunity to lead in a different way.

“At the same time, my body is a little bit older, too, and maybe I don’t feel as fresh some days as well.”

He appeared in 21 games last season, 18 as a reliever, but will be on the mound as a starter against the Sooners on Saturday. Teammate Griff McGarry, also a righty, has the starting assignment for tonight’s game. Yet another right-hander, Mike Vasil, will start Sunday’s game.

All of them are under the direction of new pitching coach Drew Dickinson, who came to UVA after eight years at Illinois. Dickinson replaced longtime Cavalier staffer Karl Kuhn, who is now head coach at Radford.

“Two different styles in coaching, but they also preach the same thing: throw strikes, pound the zone,” Harrington said. “If you want to get outs and be competitive at this level, you have to pound the zone. That’s something we struggled with the last couple of years.”

Harrington said Dickinson is a laid-back, team guy, player-oriented, someone players can go and talk to whenever they want.

“[Kuhn] was the same in a different type of way,” Harrington said. “Dickinson is someone we admire. We want to play for the guy.”

Getting back to the postseason is certainly one of this team’s goals. Harrington said that everyone on the team is fully aware of the fact, that it doesn’t need to be discussed.

“The guys who came into the program all committed when UVA was always in the Regionals, the Super Regionals, and sometimes all the way to Omaha,” he said. “The guys who have been there, which I believe are only two of us at this point who were in UVA jerseys, we want to get back.

“It’s so much more fun when you’re winning baseball games. We won a handful last year but just not enough. Is it talked about a whole lot? Not really, but it’s on everyone’s minds.”

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