Sidearmer Hackimer has been lights out for the Johnnies

Brandon Mauk, Digital Sports Manager

St. John’s baseball follows a simple formula: score plenty of runs and bring in the bullpen to lock down the win. They have the first part working almost every game, as they average 5.34 runs per game. They also have one of the most reliable bullpens in the country led by Thomas Hackimer.

Hackimer is a submarine pitcher, as he releases the baseball with an underhand motion just above the ground. Many pitchers do this to make up for a lack in velocity and to throw right-handed hitters off balance.

“It definitely gives me an advantage against righties because a lot of them I don’t think want to be in the box against me,” Hackimer said. “The ball comes from starting at their hip and comes back across the plate and then back into their hands.”

Hackimer cites Major League relievers Darren O’Day of the Orioles and Joe Smith of the Angels as pitchers he tries to emulate in this unorthodox delivery. He didn’t even pitch until he came to college. He was a shortstop at nearby Archbishop Molloy High School and converted to pitcher.

Despite never pitching before in his life, Hackimer was given the closer’s role his freshman year and recorded eight saves and a 3.91 ERA. He slumped to a 4.26 ERA his sophomore year. Joe Kuzia took over the closing role in a season after he allowed just four earned runs in 37 innings.

This year, it’s been a different story for Hackimer. After working back from an ACL injury over the summer, he added velocity to his fastball. He now throws 88-90 miles per hour on his fastball, compared to low 80s earlier in his college career.

“Throwing harder helps a lot. I can get away with a little more, like I can leave a pitch up and a guy will swing through, instead of, say two years ago, a guy hits it in the gap,” Hackimer said. “Just gives me a little more room for error.”

As a result, he has saved eight games again and has put up a 1.87 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 33.2 innings pitched. Unlike the typical closer nowadays, he has also been able to go more than one inning to get saves when needed.

“Hack’s been solid all year. He’s not the typical back end guy,” said St. John’s head coach Ed Blankmeyer said. “He can go multiple outs, multiple innings. He’s strong enough. He can cover well. And  it gives you a different look coming underhand. His velocity is kind of tough to hit.”

Another important reason for Hackimer’s success is his improvement at getting left-handed hitters out. Lefties often have an easier time hitting submarine pitchers as they get to see the ball longer, and Hackimer had trouble against them his first two years. However, the improvement of his pitch has allowed him to shut them down, as all hitters have hit just .152 against him this season.

“Lefties see it a little bit longer though, so that’s a bit of a disadvantage for me,” Hackimer said. “The more I can go inside on them, and the more I can throw my offspeed stuff for strikes, the easier it is to get [lefties] out.”

Hackimer also credits his improvement to his previous pitching coach Scott Brown and current pitching coach Corey Muscara.

“His mentality is so different. He’s a competitor. He’s got the same mentality as a Bob Knight or a Michael Jordan,” Muscara said. “It’s highly competitive, result-oriented, high tempers. Sometimes those are the best athletes, and he’s perfect for that role.”

As a result, he has allowed the rest of the bullpen to line up and take shape. He and Kuzia have combined for a dominant back end of the pen that has regularly locked down victories for the Red Storm, who sit in first place in the Big East at 8-3 and 24-14 overall this season