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Big 12 honors icing on the cake for Friday night starter Reese Dutton

First-year Jayhawk built for big-time moments like setting the tone for an entire series

4 min read
KU pitcher Reese Dutton has taken ahold of the Friday night starter role for the Jayhawks this season and fared very well so far. [R1S1 Sports photo]

When Kansas senior Reese Dutton first talked to the KU baseball staff about joining the program as a key offseason transfer, they discussed the potential of him becoming the Jayhawks’ Friday night starter.

And then he went and forgot everything they said about it, choosing instead to show up, put in the work and see where that takes him.

“They can guarantee you everything,” Dutton told R1S1 Sports of his recruitment to Kansas. “But you most definitely have to earn it. I’ve always liked the challenge, a little pressure on your shoulders, just go out and compete, show everyone what you’re made of.”

So far, that approach has taken him to heights he never quite expected and faster than he ever could imagine.

Earlier this week, on the heels of a masterful performance in KU’s 3-1 win over No. 3 TCU last Friday night, Dutton was named the Big 12 Pitcher and Co-Newcomer of the Week.

“Heck yeah,” Dutton says.

You don’t have to spend much time around him to know that the two-word response is one of his catch phrases. It perfectly captures the Kenosha, Wisconsin native’s blend of competitive fire, positivity and electric energy. All of those personality traits serve him well on the mound, too.

In the win over TCU, Dutton threw 7 strong innings of 1-run ball, surrendering 4 hits and 2 walks while striking out 8 to deliver a 3-1 Kansas victory.

The outing moved Dutton to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in Big 12 play.

“Being under the lights and facing a top team in the country, it was important for us to show them and the rest of the conference and country what we’re gonna do the rest of the season,” Dutton said. “I didn’t black out the entire time, but I was in a meditative state of mind, just flowing and letting my body work.”

That’s the beauty of being the Game 1 starter each week, Dutton says. Every Friday is the crescendo of a week’s worth of work, rest, recovery, relaxation, recharging and gearing up to get back out there.

“I like the big-time moments,” he said. “No matter how you feel the rest of the week, as soon as you wake up on that Friday, it’s kind of like a tingly, numb feeling. You’re just locked in and ready to go.”

Being the Friday night starter comes with its share of responsibilities. For one, you’re usually facing another elite arm in the Big 12. For two, you’re tasked with setting the tone for the weekend, for your team and for yourself in a relatively short period of time.

A former high school wrestler who lives to compete, Dutton started out as a shortstop and pitcher at Heartland Community College, where he played for three seasons. One summer, while playing in the Expedition League, the plan was for him to continue to play both positions, But when he showed up to join his summer squad, there were more position players than he could count.

“So, I kind of thought to myself, ‘All right, I’ll just stick to pitching,’” he said.

Good decision.

After finishing his Heartland career with a 16-1 record in 22 starts, he transferred to USC Upstate and went 10-3 with 102 strikeouts in 90.1 innings last season.

Having proven himself at those two levels, Dutton knew he wanted to shoot higher for his final season of eligibility. So he entered the transfer portal and started to weigh his options.

“It was like speed dating,” he joked. “You’ve got to know what you want, evaluate what your values are and this really checked all the boxes. Being a part of a program on the rise, that was really what caught my eye. I’m all in on that.”

He shares that commitment with several of his teammates, and he believes that this group has shown terrific progress toward coming together and being the team it wants to be already this season.

That’s why it’s the two wins over TCU that meant more to him than the individual honors he received from his new conference.

“When I heard about it, I had a little smile and thought, ‘Wow, that’s cool,’” he said of the weekly awards. “I don’t play for the awards, though. I play to have a good time with my teammates and win games. It’s all about playing baseball at the end of May and into June and that’s what we’re striving for.”

Dutton will be back on the mound again today in Ohio, when the Jayhawks (9-6 overall, 2-1 Big 12) take on Big 12 newcomer Cincinnati (10-8, 1-2) in their second conference series of the season.

First pitch is slated for 4 p.m. Don’t be surprised if it’s a slider or sinker, two pitches that Dutton calls his best.

“I’ve got no tricks,” he said. “It is what it is. I’m just gonna give you my best stuff and if it works out, great. If it doesn’t, go back to the drawing board and get better.”

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