By Josh Brown
HAMILTON — Hitting for average. Hitting for power. Clutch hitting. And even some pitching.
During his time with the Troy Trojans, Nathan Helke did a bit of everything.
But it was that last thing — pitching, or more specifically closing — that has turned into the 2012 Troy High School graduate’s calling card in his post-high school career. And after setting records during his two seasons at Sinclair Community College, leading his summer league in saves with the Hamilton Joes and making an All-Star game appearance as a result, Helke will be moving on to his next challenge — playing at King University, an NCAA Division II school in Tennessee.
For Helke — who was always known in high school for his big bat — the transition to the closer’s role began in his senior year at Troy.
“I closed mainly during my senior year,” Helke said. “Early in the fall last year, they (Sinclair’s coaches) told me they wanted me to go for the closer’s role. I do like the role, and they had a lot of confidence in me, so I went for it.”
And this year, he set new standards at Sinclair. He became the college’s single-season record holder in saves — and led the NJCAA for the season in the process — with 13.
Helke then went on to play for the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Hamilton Joes in this current summer, where he leads the league in saves, picking up his ninth on the season Thursday. He has made 13 appearances for the Joes this season with 13.1 innings pitched, 16 strikeouts, three walks, 21 hits and a 4.73 ERA. His nine saves is also a single-season record for the Hamilton Joes — which he will continue to add to with a few more weeks left in the season.
All of that earned him a spot in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League All-Star Game on July 16. He pitched a scoreless inning for the South, which defeated the North 6-1.
“I threw an inning, got two strikeouts and a flyout and gave up a double,” Helke said. “It was cool being around a unch of guys not from this area. It was cool talking to those guys and learning how they go about training and doing things, seeing how it’s different from everyone I’m normally around.”
It’s all been a big transition for Helke, though, who terrorized pitchers during high school — particularly closers.
Helke holds many of Troy High School’s single-season and career batting records. His junior year in 2011, he had a .543 batting average, a .600 on-base percentage and drove in 34 runs — all single-season Trojan records. He also holds the career record in home runs with 10, with five of those coming in his senior season when he led the Greater Western Ohio Conference. In 2012, he was the GWOC North Division’s Athlete of the Year, hitting .410 and adding another 28 RBIs to his five homers — many of which either tied games or gave the Trojans the lead late in games.
“It definitely feels weird,” Helke said of not having to hit. “Especially in batting practice, being out in the outfield shagging fly balls.”
But that senior season, he also picked up two saves — one less than Troy’s single-season record — going 2-0 in nine appearances with 14.2 innings pitched, 23 strikeouts and a 1.43 ERA. And he also attributes his skill at the plate with helping him win the mental battles on the mound.
“My hitting has helped my pitching throughout my career,” Helke said. “Because of that, I know what hitters are looking for in certain situations. It’s helped me close out games.”
Of course, playing on the next level has had its own challenges, too.
“There’s more depth in the lineups,” Helke said. “In high school, there’s usually only three or four guys you really have to worry about at the top of the lineup. In the collegiate level, if you’ve made it that far it means you can probably hit. You have to worry about everyone, one through nine.
“It means that you can’t just burn guys down with fastballs. You’ve got to be able to throw your secondary pitches for strikes, too.”
And after two seasons with Sinclair, Helke is moving on once again. He is headed to King University in the fall to pitch for the Tornado.
“Coach helped me find places. I knew I wanted to go south, especially after the crappy winter we just had,” Helke said with a laugh. “Their baseball program was a good fit, I liked the campus and the area — and one of my teammates from last year at Sinclair, Tyler Raymond, went down there this year, too.”
And while Helke will hold onto his current role, the Tornado may also make use of his other assets, too.
“I’ll be the closer, yeah, but in the fall they’re looking to get me hitting a little, too,” Helke said.
Whatever is put in front of him, though, Helke is ready for the challenge.
“Oh yeah. I’m looking forward to starting it all over again,” he said.
Contact Josh Brown at 552-2132 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.