Home Mailbag: Can Jay Woolfolk be the solution to Virginia’s pitching issues?

Mailbag: Can Jay Woolfolk be the solution to Virginia’s pitching issues?

Chris Graham
jay woolfolk
Photo: UVA Athletics

Good article on the UVA pitching woes. Has anyone talked about Jay Woolfolk? He was good enough to play for USA Baseball, but he seems so up and down. Is it mental with him? Can’t believe he cannot be a weekend starter and give us 5-6 good innings. 


Jay Woolfolk, indeed, is vexing.

Woolfolk was 5-1 with a 2.89 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 11.7 K/9 in his first two seasons.

Walks were an issue – 5.0 BB/9.

But as Russell mentioned, Woolfolk, in his summer with Team USA in 2023, was solid, though the sample size was small – 1-0, 1.93 ERA in 4.2 innings.

Coming into the spring, Brian O’Connor put Woolfolk in his weekend rotation, but the junior didn’t stay there very long.

Woolfolk was touched up for six runs on two hits and five walks in his first start of the season, an 11-9 win over Hofstra on Feb. 18, and after rough outings in starts against Miami (six runs, seven hits, three walks in 4.1 innings on March 10) and Wake Forest (four runs, five hits, three walks in 3.1 innings on March 17), he was relegated to the bullpen, and it seems to have only gotten worse for him from there.

In his nine outings since going to the pen, Woolfolk has a 6.94 ERA and 2.06 WHIP in 11.2 innings, with 15 Ks and 11 walks in that span.

It’s hard to figure that a kid like Woolfolk, who was a projected second- or third-round pick when he decided last summer to give up football to focus on baseball this year, could fall off the way he has this season.

It’s not an issue with velocity – his fastball was touching 95 mph last weekend in the series with Georgia Tech.

When Russell brought up the word “mental” as a possible issue, something registered with what I was thinking when I watched him pitch against Georgia Tech.

It seems to me that Woolfolk, for whatever reason, just doesn’t trust his stuff enough, which leads to him trying to make the perfect pitch on every pitch.

Too often, the search for the perfect pitch leads to him falling behind in the count, then overcompensating late in counts, leading to pitches being left more in the hitter’s zones that are more likely to become hard-hit balls.

I’m sure O’Connor, a former college pitcher and pitching coach, and Drew Dickinson, the UVA pitching coach, have been trying everything with Woolfolk, whatever they can to get him back to where he was in 2022 and 2023.

Since it’s not a physical issue, that means it has to be mental – and to me, mental means just confidence.

Confidence early in ABs would get him ahead in counts, and get him in position to go to his slider, which has proven, in his three years, to be a pretty good two-strike pitch.

There’s still time. The first round of the NCAA Tournament is still five weeks away.

Woolfolk would need a couple of weeks to build his stamina back up to be able to give O’Connor five or six innings as a starter, but the way things are now with the rotation, with only Evan Blanco set as a weekend starter, that leaves mid-weeks and either Saturdays or Sundays for Woolfolk to build.

I’m being optimistic there, but that’s my nature.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].