TJ at Linganore baseball 1

Linganore senior Matt Cunningham, shown pitching in 2019, has seen his fastball velocity increase from the high 80s to 93 mph since the summertime.

Matt Cunningham unexpectedly found himself with time to self-scout, to consider the baseball player he had truly become.

The opportunity arrived in mid-February, when he learned that the Mount St. Mary’s coach who had recruited him to play shortstop at the Emmitsburg university, Scott Thomson, had resigned. Cunningham, a Linganore senior, took steps to get released from his Mount commitment, then took a look at himself.

What he saw wasn’t so much an athletic shortstop, but a rising pitching prospect. He’d grown to 6-foot-3, 165 pounds. He’d spent the past year zeroed in on sharpening his focus and bolstering his body to increase the velocity of his gauntlet.

And there was little question anymore. “I’ve got more potential as a pitcher,” he thought. “That’s my future.”

Cunningham cemented the notion early last week, when he committed to pitch at the University of Maryland.

The development materialized through additional help from T.J. Hose — Cunningham’s personal pitching coach and the “miracle worker” who had coaxed so much improvement out of this thin right-hander since they began working together about five years ago.

Then a 13-year-old who had given up pitching a year or so earlier to focus on his middle-infield skills, Cunningham saw a flyer for Hose’s services. He and his father, Frank — who had to give up training his son in the backyard when the boy’s pitches got dangerously difficult to receive — thought it might be a good idea.

Hose saw a slight, athletic kid with arm speed who figured to make gains as he matured. The biggest have arrived within the past year, as Hose — a former Arizona Diamondbacks farmhand — imparted his knowledge on how Cunningham could consistently get the most power out of his body.

Despite having his junior season at Linganore canceled due to the pandemic, Cunningham stayed busy last summer with the Frederick Hustlers and Mid-Atlantic Red Sox, pitching every weekend in out-of-state tournaments, with and against top talent. He began to command his primary pitches — fastball, slider, change-up — and, just as important, improve his mental approach.

“I was definitely working on my fastball, and really just calming myself down on the mound, finding my composure and understanding the game a little bit more,” he said of his summer experience. “Thinking about the right situations and what pitch to throw. But [velocity] is definitely what I’ve been working on in the past year, getting my velo to a point where it’s good enough to be a high Division-I level.”

In addition to the fundamentals drilled by Hose, Cunningham delved into a fitness program that has focused on strength and flexibility in his hips and shoulders.

“Those two things really shot me through the roof, velo-wise — opened everything up,” he said.

His max velocity has jumped from the upper 80s last summer to 93 mph earlier this month.

“If he continues to put on weight, he’s going to be a mid-90s guy,” said Hose, also mentioning the uptick in Cunningham’s confidence that has coincided with the increased speed of his pitches.

Given all of those factors, Cunningham asked Hose for help in finding a college where he could continue his development on the mound. Hose, also the pitching coach at Hagerstown Community College, has a multitude of contacts, including a strong relationship with Maryland pitching coach Corey Muscara.

Along with a still-improving physique and repertoire — which includes movement on all of his pitches — another selling point was Cunningham’s competitiveness.

“He’s a bulldog when he gets out there,” Hose said. “It’s an extra trait that’s going to help him make that transition to a Power Five conference, and I truly believe that he’ll be able to get innings right away.”

First, he’ll reunite with the Lancers after a year apart. Spring practice starts April 17. Linganore coach David Keiling can’t wait to get a look at the updated version of Cunningham.

“He sent me a couple of videos of him training,” Keiling said. “Every once in a while he’ll hit the low 90s. I haven’t seen that live yet ... but it doesn’t surprise me.”

Cunningham looks forward to joining forces again with fellow pitchers Cam Rokisky, a Marshall commit, and Ben Moore, a standout junior.

“Last year was a kick in the butt, not having that season, because I thought last year was going to be our year,” Cunningham said. “We had all the pieces in place. We still do. I think this year we’re going to be something special to watch.”

Cunningham was a News-Post All-County first-teamer as a sophomore in 2019 with a 1.00 ERA over 40 1-3 innings, but Keiling said he struggled with his efficiency and often reached his pitch count quickly.

A lot has changed since then. And Cunningham is anxious to show the county what he’s been up to in the interim.

“I love pitching to strikeouts and trying to work batters and get in their head,” he said. “But with the jumps I’ve made velo-wise and my other pitches, I think that this year I will be able to go right at hitters and show them what I have and make them hit it. Go right after them, keep the pitch-count down, a lot of fastballs, and see what they can do with it.”

Joshua R. Smith is the News-Post sports editor. He writes stories and columns about sports, life and fatherhood. Follow him on Twitter: @JoshuaR_Smith.

(1) comment

Dwasserba

Good choice.

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