From my perspective, he’s one of the best pitchers I’ve had the opportunity to coach. – Jeremy Thomas

Undefeated and unscathed with a shiny perfect record, right-handed pitcher Mike Rucker is kind of carrying BYU’s baseball team right now.

It’s the kind of challenge he likes: That things are left to him, although he proclaims without his dugout mates, he’d accomplish little.

Rucker’s 10-0 record places him in a lofty, legendary group of Cougars. He’s humble, reserved and respectful off the field, but when he takes to the mound, he’s crafty and determined and has been called a deadly assassin. Certainly he is a mechanic with a baseball. Today, he’s the nation’s winningest collegiate pitcher and his next start is scheduled for a series with San Francisco, which begins Thursday.

With Rucker on the mound, BYU is undefeated. On his days off, the Cougars are 21-13.

His warmup music is a rhythmic song by Aloe Blacc titled “I Need a Dollar.” Lyrics include the stanza:

“If God has plans for me I hope it ain’t written in stone

Because I’ve been working myself down to the bone.

And I swear on Grandpa’s grave I’ll be paid when I come home.”

The way it’s looking, Rucker certainly will be paid for his work. His craft, which includes a fastball in the mid-90s, is only part of his tool box.

Rucker is 6-1, 195 pounds and hails from Lake Tapps, Washington. He was born to Jeffry and Susan Rucker in Columbus, Mississippi.

One of the most interesting angles in the Rucker story is that the former Gonzaga pitcher transferred and enrolled at BYU and was attending classes in Provo after his marriage and conversion to the LDS faith. BYU’s pitching coach, Jeremy Thomas, was not aware this ace was nesting in their shade.

BYU knew of Rucker when it played against him when he started for Gonzaga. He had attended a BYU baseball camp in the Vance Law era as a youngster. Former BYU star pitcher Peter Kendrick learned that Rucker was interested in leaving Gonzaga and alerted BYU head coach Mike Littlewood. Gonzaga permitted Rucker to talk to BYU. Thomas, a volunteer part-time coach, apparently was unaware Rucker had moved to Provo, enrolled and had begun a mandatory “sit-out” redshirt year when a baseball player gave him the word.

Now he’s delivering wins. Nobody’s beat him. With BYU’s two other top pitchers injured, he’s a significant force on a Cougar team that started 23-3 but has played break-even ball ever since.

Rucker’s 10th straight win came last Thursday in a 9-5 BYU win over Pepperdine in Malibu, California. “Mike (Rucker) was a warrior as usual and battled his way through six innings,” said Littlewood.

“Michael Rucker is one of those kids who just knows how to pitch and knows what he needs to do to be successful,” said Thomas.

“He’s been blessed with tremendous stuff and he throws three, sometimes four pitches for strikes. He knows when he needs to use his stuff for strikes and when he needs to just throw for ground balls and get outs.

“From my perspective, he’s one of the best pitchers I’ve had the opportunity to coach. Honestly, in my opinion he could go pitch AA and be successful.”

Chatter around Rucker is he could go in the first five rounds. He’s young and scouts like him. More than 25 were in attendance at the Pepperdine-BYU series.

“You never know if he’s having a good or a bad day. He is so even-keeled and doesn’t let emotions get to him both on and off the field. It’s a key to his success. He’s a hard cat to read,” Thomas said.

Thomas hasn’t tried to change anything with Rucker’s mechanics because of his accuracy. But the staff has worked hard at his recovery program by controlling his pitch count and enabling him to come back as soon as possible. “It’s a matter of tweaking things here and there and allowing him to do his thing. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

Thomas called him a “rare” find. After playing his freshman year at Gonzaga, he sat out a year at BYU and is a sophomore in eligibility this season.

Undefeated? Ten wins?

“I think it’s awesome,” said Rucker after an evening out with his in-laws after his 10th victory. They live in Ventura.

“It’s cool. I’m just glad I have a strong supporting cast on offense and defense. I couldn’t do it by myself for sure.”

Rucker said he’s always played with a chip on his shoulder and it motivates him. In high school, he was a shorter guy and he’s always felt he had something to prove.

“I was overlooked, and every time I just wanted to put my best self out there and show people what Michael Rucker baseball is all about. Baseball is just a superb outlet to harness all my competitive spirit and put it all on the field. I love playing with my teammates and going to battle with them. We all play hard. I want to win and get to the next level.”

His first win in April came against preseason WCC favorite San Diego in a 12-2 victory. He threw 93 pitches in 6.2 innings. In a 13-4 win over No. 25 Creighton, Rucker nearly had a no-hitter, shutting down hitters through 7.1 innings on 105 pitches. He gave up a pair of singles in the eighth when he had 27 pitches.

Rucker got his third win in the month of April in an 11-2 win over his former team, Gonzaga. He had six scoreless innings after giving up an earned run in the first. His NCAA 9-0 mark after that win tied him for first in the nation in wins.

After the win over the Zags, Littlewood described Rucker’s mental control.

"Rucker is just a calm guy," Littlewood said. "He's calm out there. He's calm when we're talking in my office. He's calm in the clubhouse. He's calm on the bus. Sometimes you have to check him for a heartbeat. He just doesn't show his emotions. That's what makes him really good. And at this level, when you can do that, it's pretty special.

"He's got a great future. We sure wish we'd have him back next year, but I don't think it's going to happen. I think he's going to have a really good chance of playing pro ball next year."

Rucker said he loves playing with this team, a squad that is challenging for a WCC title. “It’s all about confidence. From fall ball onward we’ve known we’ve had an extremely deep team offensively and a lot of pieces in pitching that were valuable.

“It was a bummer than Kendall Motes got injured early and Maverik Buffo got hurt against Saint Mary’s. Connor Williams is battling some arm soreness but we’ve tried to work the puzzle and win. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve never been part of a team that’s been so close and competitive. We expect to win every time out and we have fun doing it. It’s awesome to go out on the pitching mound and have high fives and celebrate. We have a long season ahead of us and a lot of work to do, but I’m looking forward to it."

Rucker’s walkout song was picked carefully and with consultation with his wife Sydney. “It’s slower, has a good beat to it,” he said. “I talked to my wife about it and we both thought it’s got swag. People like it. It’s unconventional and I love it. It helps me breathe and relax, get ready.”

It seems he’s always ready.

When he married Sydney, the way he tells it, “We eloped to the Hawaiian Temple.”

According to BYU publicist Ralph Zobell, there have been nine pitchers in the history of BYU baseball dating back over half a century who have started off seasons with 9-0 records.

His 10th victory at Pepperdine last week made him one of just five Cougars to start 10-0.

“Rucker was only scheduled to pitch the opening inning against Arizona and held them scoreless, receiving no decision. At Saint Mary's he received no decision, striking out five in seven innings as our starter, leaving the game in a 4-4 tie which BYU ended up losing 5-4,” said Zobell.

The list of BYU pitchers with records similar to Rucker is filled with some of the school’s most storied players including Colby Ward, Mark De La Torre, Scott Nielsen and Peter Kendrick. There were also some pretty good ones who didn’t make the list, like former Detroit Tiger star Jack Morris.

Mike Rucker, aka, The Ace.


TWITTER: Harmonwrites