GREENFIELD — Former Greenfield-Central standout Curtiss Irving is spending his summer rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee, tinkering with his pitching repertoire and enjoying long bus rides with the Richmond (Indiana) RiverRats – all in the name of preparing him for a pivotal fall as he enters his sophomore season at Ohio State University.
Irving – who guided the Cougars to Hoosier Heritage Conference and sectional championships and shared Hancock County Player of the Year honors with former Mt. Vernon star and fellow Buckeye Troy Montgomery in 2013 – has been playing first base, third base and pitching for the RiverRats, who compete in the Prospect League, a collegiate summer baseball organization where all players must be NCAA-eligible to take the field.
“It’s a pretty good league. You definitely have top athletes and top hitters in this league spread out everywhere,” Irving said. “It’s a good league to develop as a young player.”
Irving recorded a 4.26 ERA in 19 innings for OSU (30-28 overall, 10-14 in Big Ten) as a freshman before undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee prior to the Big Ten Tournament in late May.
“Right before the Big Ten Tournament, the meniscus was popping in and out of my joint. It was a bucket tear. The whole season it was popping in and out while I pitching – I’d just pop it back in and keep on pitching,” said Irving, who believes he suffered the injury sliding into a base last fall. “It wouldn’t pop back in before the Big Ten Tournament so I had to get surgery the week they left.”
Irving returned to the field on July 16, throwing a scoreless inning against the West Virginia Miners. Irving is developing a slider to compliment his fastball – which topped out at 93 mph last year, he said – and changeup while preparing for a to-be-determined pitching role for the Buckeyes.
“It’s been fun. We’re having a good time and getting our reps in,” said Irving, who is majoring in business with a focus on operations. “I’ve been pitching two innings at a time and keeping a low pitch count for now. I’m doing pretty well. I’m better than I was at Ohio State.”
Irving entered last fall attempting to carve out a corner infield spot in addition to his pitching duties. Irving wound up as a mound-only player in 2014, but is giving hitting one last shot this fall.
“I came in as a two-way guy. I did decent in the fall hitting-wise – not as well as I wanted to – but I couldn’t get the spot for first or third. I had to focus on pitching (late) in the fall and winter,” Irving explained. “I ended up tweaking my mechanics, getting more experience and I started throwing harder out of nowhere. I got a spot from the travel team. A couple injuries happened, so I started getting some game experience and I just went from there.
“I’m pretty happy with the pitching. I got a lot of innings in – more than I thought I would. I’m definitely going to pitch a lot for the team this year, I’m pretty confident about that. I’m going to make a decision after this fall to focus on pitching or hitting. I’m still going to try and prove that I can hit this fall.”
As for this summer, Irving has traded in OSU’s chartered plane for five-plus hour bus rides to places like Beckley, West Virginia; Butler, Pennsylvania; and Hannibal, Missouri.
Irving has some familiar faces to burn time with, though. Former Delta standout Austin Conway (now a rising sophomore Indiana State) and incoming Indiana University sophomores Luke Cureton and Brendan Flood – both former Cathedral players – are three of the squad’s Hoosier State natives. Ryan Leffel and Nick Sergakis, two of Irving’s teammates at OSU, are infielders for the RiverRats, who were 22-34 entering Monday.
“This summer has been different because you have a bus instead of a plane,” Irving said. “It’s not too bad. They’re pretty long trips, but it’s fun to sit with the guys and watch a lot of movies.”
Irving has enjoyed a positive stint so far with Richmond. Entering Monday’s doubleheader against the Lorain County (Ohio) Ironmen, Irving had posted a 2.31 ERA in 11.2 innings pitched, allowing nine hits and five walks while fanning five. At the plate, Irving has four hits in nine at-bats with a double and three RBI.
Montgomery, Irving’s roommate in Columbus, has spent the summer in Michigan playing for the Kalamazoo (Michigan) Growlers of the Northwoods League. In 158 at-bats over 48 games, Montgomery has hit .357 with 37 runs scored, 26 RBI and 26 walks. Now rehabbing a minor bone contusion in his left leg, Montgomery hasn’t played for Kalamazoo since July 25.
Montgomery, an outfielder, saw extensive playing time at Ohio State as a freshman, appearing in 49 games and starting 36. He hit .235 with 22 RBI and recorded a fielding percentage of .991.
Irving, playing for the RiverRats under recommendation from OSU’s coaching staff, may not be under the Buckeyes’ direct supervision, but he knows head coach Greg Beals and the rest of the coaching staff are keeping a watchful eye on him.
“Coach (Beals) will check the box scores of all the games. He keeps track of us and sees what we’re doing,” Irving said. “We’re having fun out there, but we’re still trying to get our work done. The strength coach gives us a training program for the summer, so we try to follow that.”