116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – Bigger, stronger and faster.
Kirkwood right-handed pitcher Luke Llewellyn laughed when he recalled his build as a skinny, lanky 6-foot-4, 190-pound freshman who threw about 16 innings in just seven appearances. He was all business the following offseason, transforming his body so it filled his frame.
“In high school, I was a skinny guy, a twig,” Llewellyn said. “I had talent, which was enough then. You get to college, it’s a longer season. I was throwing slow. I was bad.
“I didn’t play summer ball. I stayed at Kirkwood with (former teammates) Casey Day and Jackson (Bennett). I got on a good diet with protein from steak, chicken and all that. I ate and lifted as much as I could.”
In three years, Llewellyn gained 30 to 40 pounds, added velocity to his fastball and has caused opposing batters fits. He has helped Kirkwood to a 36-19 record, entering the NJCAA Region XI baseball tournament Thursday through Saturday at Mount Mercy’s Robert W. Plaster Athletic Complex.
The Eagles open with Des Moines Area Community College on Friday at 4 p.m. Llewellyn (4-2) is expected to get the start Saturday, coming off a no-hitter against Iowa Lakes in his last outing. It was the first Kirkwood no-hitter since Colin Belk did it against Iowa Lakes on March 31, 2013.
“He gave us an outstanding start last Saturday,” Kirkwood Coach Todd Rima said. “We feel when Luke has the ball in his hand he gives us a great chance to win. His stuff is very good. He’s a very competitive kid. We like when he’s starting on the mound for us.”
The University of Iowa signee from Urbandale has grown into a power pitcher, hitting 90-92 miles per hour regularly on the radar gun and maxing out at 94. During that first offseason, Llewellyn dedicated more time to the weight room than his actually pitching. He had the skill, but the focus was on training.
“Obviously, I throw a lot harder and hold that (velocity) for longer,” Llewellyn said. “It was a huge deal.”
Llewellyn was inspired to improve. He worked hard to make gains that summer. Indirectly, he received a little push from back home as well. His younger brother, Max, who has signed to play football for Iowa, began catching him in size and strength.
The situation didn’t sit well with the older sibling, so he had to work harder to keep from getting surpassed. Llewellyn admits that he is smaller now – Max is now 6-5 and 245 – but they still compete in the gym when they are together.
“We test the numbers against each other,” Llewellyn said. “It’s a race. I hung with him a little bit, which is embarrassing since I’m three years older. He’s blown by me, now.”
Rima praised Llewellyn for his work ethic that first summer. He has an intimidating presence on the mound. His stature, speed and a funky delivery are tough on opposing batters when Llewellyn has command of the strike zone.
“He definitely looks the part,” Rima said. “He’s from a big physical family. When Luke takes the mound, you definitely feel good in what he’s going to bring.”
Against Iowa Lakes, he struck out nine in the seven-inning contest. Llewellyn opened with some control problems that have been a hurdle at times. He walked the opening two batters, but credited battery mate Cade Moss for settling down, throwing out a runner trying to steal second for the first out.
He was locked in the rest of the way and didn’t allow another baserunner.
“I got those first two guys on, I could tell people were thinking ‘Oh God, here he goes again,’ but I think the thing that helped was Cade,” Llewellyn said. “They tried to steal and Cade, like he does, threw him out by about 5 feet. It wasn’t even close. I felt like he kind of saved. Cade got me one and I can get two.”
“It just calmed me down. I just threw a lot of strikes from then on out.”
Llewellyn leads Kirkwood with 72 strikeouts in a little more than 53 innings. He averages 12 strikeouts per nine innings. Rima said he knew they signed a pitcher with “swing-and-miss” stuff, noting his breaking ball is thrown from the same arm slot as his fastball.
“He kind of has a funky delivery,” Rima said. “It’s tough for hitters to pick up. The key for Luke is to be ahead in the count. When he has thrown a lot of strikes, he’s as tough as anyone we’ve had to square up.”
From the reserve to one of two top pitchers on the staff, Lewellyn embraces the chance for another postseason start. One that could vault the Eagles into the regional final.
“This is where it gets fun, where it gets good,” Llewellyn said. “My freshman year, I didn’t get to throw in the conference tournament at all. Reece will go out and hopefully show and we win. I’ll have the game that can send us to the championship. It’s going to be fun. I’m excited. Big moments. I can’t wait.”