Column: Gritty delivery, clean slate for Fivay's Sean Fluke



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Tue. March 18, 2014 | John C. Cotey | Email

Column: Gritty delivery, clean slate for Fivay's Sean Fluke

Sean Fluke is trying not to look back.

Instead, he looks forward.

To this week, next week, next month. How many pitches can he squeeze in, how many swings of the bat can he take, how many games can he win?

His last two seasons were lost, one to injury and the other to his own carelessness in class.

He has one season left. This one.

“I have a lot to prove,’’ the Fivay High School senior said.

Fluke, a 5-foot-10 right-hander, is playing baseball like there is no tomorrow. And if there isn’t, he is doing everything he can to change that.

Entering Tuesday’s Pasco-Hernando Classic game against Hernando, he had started and won five games. Twice, he had to pitch into extra innings to do so.

He toyed with a perfect game in his first outing of the season and has struck out 13 batters in a game twice. Through 40 innings, he has 58 strikeouts, more than anyone else in Tampa Bay.

“He is playing so ridiculously well right now,’’  coach Matt Hayes said.

Fluke is driven, possessed even, to erase the sting of his past two seasons.

As a freshman, he was 6-1 with a 2.35 ERA and a bright future. But an arm injury cut short his sophomore season. Fluke stopped showing up every day for class as a junior, and his grades suffered.

That set off a contentious standoff between his father and the Fivay administration, one side arguing the other promised his son could return if his grades were straightened out; the other saying the season was almost over, and it wasn’t fair to displace another player for one that hadn’t been around.

The standoff was prickly and personal, and Fluke didn’t play an inning.

“Definitely a frustrating experience,” he said. “It was an ordeal.”

But Fluke put it behind him, and worked out with the goal of salvaging his high school career and being the force he had been in Little League and AAU.

He’s been even better than anyone imagine. “Some random kid” when the season started, he said, to arguably the North Suncoast’s best pitcher.

He was 5-0 with a 1.20 ERA until Hernando — now 12-1 on the season — beat him Tuesday night in his first bad start of the season.

And according to MaxPreps, where most of the teams in the state record their stats, his victory total and 58 strikeouts rank second in Florida.

He struck out six in his first three innings against Hernando before the wheels came off.

But most impressive might be this: Fluke has only walked four batters in 40 innings.

Utilizing an 85-mph fastball, an effective slider he says is his out pitch, a solid changeup and 12-to-6 curveball, Fluke has managed to keep batters guessing — wrongly, in most cases — this season.

“I’m in the zone,’’ Fluke said. “I’m throwing first-pitch strikes, setting kids up the way I want to. It’s hard to hit a ball if you don’t know what’s coming.”

Fluke has also excelled in the field. Hayes said he made two outstanding plays against Dunedin last week, just a few days after getting three hits, three RBIs and two stolen bases while pitching a complete-game win over Land O’Lakes.

“It seems everywhere he touches the field right now he’s making great plays,’’ said Hayes, who may be most pleased by this fact: Fluke’s grades, and his attendance record at school, have been stellar.

“He came back out like ‘I’m here to show you and I’m ready to play baseball,’ ” Hayes said.

• • •

Fluke’s first loss snapped a string of 11 straight wins dating to his freshman year. Before Tuesday, he had allowed two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his last 12 starts.

He has pitched, with rare exception, like the ace he knew he could be.

“It’s great having that kind of guy and that guy right now is definitely Sean,’’ Hayes said. “The other guys play their tails off for him when he’s on the mound.”

Earlier this season against Sunlake, after his team scored to take a 2-1 lead in the top of eighth inning of a pitcher’s duel, he looked Hayes in the eyes and said, ‘Let me finish these guys.’ ”

Last week, he went over 100 pitches in beating the Gators, asking Hayes to “let me finish these guys.”

Against Hernando, Hayes had his standout hurler on a pitch count. It didn’t matter, as it turned out, but if it were up to Fluke, he’d never come out.

It’s his one goal this season.


Finish strong.

John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@tampabay.com or on Twitter @JohnnyHomeTeam.

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