As right-handed pitcher Chris Ludman trotted out for his seventh inning of work against Morehead City June 12 at 62 pitches, clinging to a 1-0 lead the Pilots grabbed in the bottom of the sixth.
The first two Marlins hitters reached base on back-to-back singles with Dominick Bucko stepping to the plate in an obvious bunt situation.
Bucko laid it down, runners advanced to second and third, respectively, and the Pilots were in a tough jam with only one out and the infield being drawn in.
Ludman battled back, forcing a groundout to Zac Morris at shortstop and striking out 6-foot-6, 250-pound Kansas first baseman Connor VanCleave on four pitches. The Delaware righty walked off the mound fired up, pumping his fist and giving a loud yell as he preserved the Pilots’ lead which they would hold in a 2-1 victory.
Ludman’s performance in that situation has been symbolic of his short stint as a Pilot: serving as a crutch that has relied on to put forth valiant efforts in each of his first three starts which have all led to victories.
“He’s always standing on the mound just making the other team earn what they get and I think that’s what makes him be the effective pitcher that he is,” redshirt freshman center fielder Trey Morgan said. “When they do find a way to make contact on Luddy, he has that sinker, that sinkerball that they beat right into the ground.”
Ludman burst onto the scene opening night against Holly Springs, carrying a no-hitter through six innings, before surrendering a leadoff single to Holly Springs freshman first baseman Ryan Wilson — the only hit he allowed that evening.
He also established himself as the pitching staff’s ace by throwing strikes — something that Major League scouts are beginning to value more in prospects.
Of the 23 batters the Newark, Delaware, native faced, he only faced a three-ball count once, throwing 54 of his 77 pitches for strikes. In 2021 he has dealt 199 strikes on 276 pitches, equating to a 72.1 strike percentage — with the Major League average hovering between 60 and 65%.
“I’ve just been pounding the zone and trusting my defense. They’ve been having my back all summer long, so that’s really it: throwing strikes and trusting my team,” Ludman said.
It took until Ludman’s third start of the season to surrender his first earned run, ending his 20 1/3-scoreless innings streak on a belt-high fastball that Tri-City’s Logan Jarvis hit for a home run.
After the one run on two hits he allowed against the Chili Peppers Friday, Ludman still owns the Coastal Plain League’s lowest ERA at 0.38.
“It’s fun coming in the game after him because you most likely have a lead because he’s not giving up runs,” redshirt freshman utility Alden Mathes said.
Ludman has also been an innings machine for the Pilots’ pitching staff so far, going 24 innings in just four appearances — three starts and one relief outing.
In each start he has worked seven frames, adding three perfect innings of relief June 5 against Martinsville.
He is no stranger to owning a workhorse role on the bump, though.
In his 2021 season at Delaware, he threw 78 innings in 11 starts, going eight frames five times with one complete-game shutout.
He allowed 77 hits across that same span in the spring, but has corrected that since arriving in Hampton, Virginia, surrendering just six knocks on the year for a league-best .075 opponent batting average.
Ludman has been a catalyst to the Pilots’ success thus far, and he hasn’t had to feature a 95-mph fastball to do it. He has gotten back to the basics of pitching and relied on fastball location, coupled with a solid sinker-slider combination to get hitters out.
Moving forward he will be a threat atop Peninsula’s rotation that other teams and professional scouts should take notice of.
“He’s just such a good competitor,” Morgan said. “He’s a really awesome arm to have on our team, and I’m just glad I don’t have to face him.”