Zach Messinger comes from a family of athletes, and over the years his upbringing has instructed him on how to conduct himself during games.
That includes stoicism. And that’s why, when the Virginia right-hander retreated to the visitor’s dugout following his successful start Tuesday evening at VCU, and he saw his family seated in the stands, he didn’t lock in eye contact or even offer a head nod. He found a seat in the dugout and watched the rest of what turned into a 3-2 Cavaliers win.
“That’s a big thing in my family,” the freshman said. “They know what job I need to get done, and I know what job I need to get done.”
Messinger received a positive performance evaluation from Coach Brian O’Connor, who noted that the right-hander was “excellent at the beginning of the game.”
Rams hitters probably agree. Messinger, in his fifth start of the season, spun 3 ⅓ innings of shutout ball, allowing just one hit and two walks and providing a bright spot in what he described as an “up-and-down” season for himself.
“I feel like I’m my toughest critic,” he said. “I know I’ve had a tough go-around this year.”
Messinger, a Chandler, Indiana native, pitched well in first outing of the season, throwing three scoreless innings in the team’s win over VMI on Feb. 19. His first start — March 6 against Wagner — went differently.
He issued two walks. He surrendered two hits. He allowed two runs. He was pulled having recorded two outs in the first inning.
“Zach Messinger is way better than what he did today,” O’Connor said after what turned into an 18-9 win for the Cavaliers.
The freshman continued to struggle through March. He allowed two runs in four innings at Liberty. Three runs in two innings against UConn. Two runs in two innings against Longwood.
Eventually, he sat down with Cavaliers pitching coach Karl Kuhn. Messinger’s takeaway from the meeting was simple enough.
“I just need to go out there and attack the zone,” Messinger recalled thinking then, after his start Tuesday. Then he chuckled. “This is my first year. I’m not in high school anymore. All these guys can hit. It doesn’t matter who you’re going to play against.”
That includes VCU. After relief outings against James Madison, Norfolk State, Miami, Radford and UNC — during which he allowed just one run in a combined 7 ⅔ innings — Messinger got to make his first start since March 26 on Tuesday. He did not disappoint.
“Zach had a great start. He set the tone,” said right-hander Devin Ortiz, who relieved Messinger and pitched 3 ⅔ scoreless innings. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have been able to carry that momentum throughout the game.”
Messinger left with one out in the third, ceding the mound to Ortiz, perhaps earning another midweek start in the future for a team that has struggled to find stability after its three weekend starters.
As his teammates packed up their gear, preparing for the bus ride home, Messinger heard a voice from the nearly empty stands: “Hey Z!”
Messinger’s stoicism melted away. The job had been done. He smiled and approached the group of guys.