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Unable to catch, Cooper Ingle’s thrived as Chatham’s ‘pest’ of a designated hitter

by Anish Vasudevan, 07-13-2022

Unable to catch, Cooper Ingle’s thrived as Chatham’s ‘pest’ of a designated hitter

Cooper Ingle had the least Cooper Ingle game against Brewster last Friday. He struck out a season-high three times, letting “good pitches” blow past him or chasing the ball outside of zone.

Ingle changed his approach the following night against Orleans, emphasizing on swinging at whatever landed in his zone. Four out of the first five pitches he saw didn't, so Ingle kept his bat behind his left shoulder before waltzing to first base. Five innings later, he secured the Anglers’ first hit of the game with a knock to shallow left field. And in the bottom of the ninth, he capped the game with a walk-off line drive to center field.

“I just want to be someone who the pitcher doesn’t want to face,” Ingle said. “I want to give them the toughest at-bat out of the nine batters.”

Caden Grice described Ingle as a “pest” in the batter’s box. Former Clemson head coach Monte Lee called him a “little stick of dynamite,” prone to detonate whenever the offense needs to be sparked. Grice said Ingle — currently second on the Anglers active roster in plate appearances per walk — could be known as a “designated walker.” Ingle prefers the term “tablesetter.”

Ingle’s switch from catcher to designated hitter has come out of necessity. On a routine throw from home plate to second base against the College of Charleston on May 10, Ingle felt a pop in his forearm. His MRI came back better than expected, but he wouldn’t be able to throw until late July. He could only bat.

Ingle was hesitant in his first appearance after the injury, but he launched a single up the middle in his second at-bat after working a walk in his first. He finished the game tying a season-high three hits and three RBIs nine days after the initial strain.

“He didn’t miss a beat,” Lee said.

The designated hitter position itself comes with its own mental toll, Ingle said. Players have a “hard time not being involved” with the defense. They’re more productive when they’re on the field in between at-bats, Lee said.

“You rarely see that the best hitter on the club is a DH,” Lee said.

Lee added that the difficulty is cemented at the professional level in the Baseball Hall of Fame, which has inducted only three designated hitters. Manager Tom Holliday said players only fully understand the importance of a DH when they’re 35, but Ingle already does at 20.

“(When) you have an 0-for-4 day, and you struggle at the plate, you can either let that get to you mentally or have a positive mindset each and every day,” Ingle said.

Ingle uses different breathing techniques to calm the adrenaline in the batter’s box. He’ll converse with assistant coach Randy Whisler while his teammates defend, cycling through what he could change in his approach the next time he’s up.

At Clemson, he would look at the analytics from his at-bats, realizing that he struggled early in the count. Ingle knew that the pitcher was going to send a middle, middle-in fastball at him on the first pitch, which mostly resulted in groundouts when he made contact. He has the advantage in the battle when it's a 1-1 or 2-1 count, using more of a “slow load” to perfect his timing when he does swing.

Ingle’s always been “blessed” with good eyes, but Lee said his biggest strength is knowing who he is as a hitter. In high school, most players can’t complete that introspection because they’re the best players on their team.

The shift happened late in Ingle’s freshman season, when he was initially “shut down” in a few appearances. Lee moved Ingle around in the batting order at the start of the following year, realizing his strength was in the three or four spot behind ACC Player of the Year Max Wagner.

“I was in there to protect him because he was getting walked a lot toward the end of the season, so it was my job to drive balls in the gap,” Ingle said.

Ingle learned to change his approach depending on where he was in the batting order. If he sits in front of power hitters like Grice, he knows that he needs to get on base. And he’ll do anything to get on base.

He can fall down 0-2 in the count, but Lee said he’ll make the pitcher deliver at least five more pitches, fouling off four to try and earn a walk. He’ll force the opposition to pitch the equivalent to one-and-a-half to two innings just at him.

“He just takes bullets out of the gun,” Lee said. “He’s been the best hitter at Clemson since he’s been at Clemson.”

As much as he tries to get on base for another batter to drive him in, Ingle has provided “team at-bats” himself for Chatham. On Tuesday, Ingle batted cleanup against Wareham, entering the batter’s box for his second at-bat with Marcus Brown on third base.

Ingle immediately grabbed the top of his bat with his left hand to bunt. He dribbled the first pitch down the first base line, taking off his helmet and stopping a few steps away from the bag. Brown crossed home to extend Chatham’s lead while Max Anderson placed the tag on the smiling Ingle.

“Quite frankly, if you’re not on his team you think he’s annoying,” Grice said.