Nick Nygard approaches pitching like a chef crafting a delicacy.
He has spent years honing four different pitches, cooking up a recipe to get around the absence of an overpowering fastball.
But it wasn’t until this summer with the Ridgefield Raptors that Nygard found the key ingredient — confidence.
That has led to Nygard, a Columbia River High grad, becoming one of the best pitchers for the Raptors. He has an earned run average of 1.58 in seven appearances, six in relief. His 25 strikeouts leads the team.
“Every pitch that he throws works,” said Grant Heiser, who caught three scoreless innings from Nygard on June 29. “When I’m calling pitches back there, I can go to anything and I know it’s going to be right where I put the glove.”
Like a chef, Nygard never stops trying to find the perfect mix. He recently employed a new grip that dramatically improved the effectiveness of his slider. His changeup has been evolving for three years.
“I don’t think it’s something you ever stop working on,” Nygard said. “Whether that be a mechanical thing or a confidence thing, there’s always some way to improve the location of your pitches.”
His confidence wasn’t always high this spring at the University of Portland. The redshirt freshman had a 6.65 ERA in 12 appearances.
“At a D-I program, you’re facing the best of the best,” Nygard said. “So it’s really easy to let that confidence waver. If you don’t believe in yourself on the mound, you’re not going to find success.”
Nygard approached this summer with a more assertive mindset. That was bolstered by a newfound confidence in his slider.
“Coming into this summer, I didn’t have a slider I was comfortable going with,” Nygard said. “My goal was to develop that pitch. I’ve been trying different things with that pitch for a couple years now. I found a grip and a method of throwing it in the last couple weeks that I’m comfortable with.”
How does a pitcher whose fastball rarely reaches 90 miles per hour lead the Raptors in strikeouts? It comes down to location and deception.
“With him you’ve got a really good changeup that you can throw to righties that gets them off balance,” Heiser said. “Then you can go to that backfoot slider. He has movement on both sides of the plate. You can call anything with him.”
Even Nygard’s fastball is deceptive.
“It has a lot of spin on it, what’s called vertical break, so it doesn’t appear as if it’s dropping as much as it should,” Nygard said. “A lot of guys miss underneath it. Then if you pair two offspeed pitches off of it that can go either way, that’s where you find a lot of success. If you live low in the zone and can command three pitches, you’re going to get a lot of guys out.”
No moment is wasted in Nygard’s quest to constantly improve. Even a simple game of catch is a chance to try a different grip or hone an arm angle.
“When I got to college, one of the things that changed drastically was the way I approached playing catch,” Nygard said. “In high school I just thought of it as a method of warming up. But you get to this level and you realize it’s time to dial things in and work on different things.”
Nygard won’t likely pitch much more than 25 innings this summer in the West Coast League, where many pitchers are on innings restrictions.
But with a reinforced confidence and the joy that comes with playing near your hometown, especially after the COVID disruptions, this summer is already a success for Nygard.
Now he just wants to help others find success too.
“My big accomplishment would be to see this team go to the playoffs and help them any way I can,” Nygard said. “When you play a sport like this, it’s never about you. It’s always about the guys next to you. If I can provide knowledge to any one of these guys, this will be a success.”