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Former Ashland star Fuller back in rotation for Ducks

Peyton Fuller was throwing with confidence and consistency. He had just broken into Oregon’s starting rotation for the first time, and was proving his coaches’ decision to promote him from the bullpen to be the right one through his first four collegiate starts.

Then, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the 2020 baseball season was over.

“We were about to get on our plane to go play UCLA and the next thing we know we’re not having the rest of our season,” the former Ashland HIgh standout recalled, adding that there was definitely some uncertainty as to just how long the suspension of play might actually last.

Like so many athletes around the country last spring, the early days of March coincided with the abrupt end to competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was one that shut down Oregon’s baseball season after all of 15 games, and put a halt to quite possibly the best stretch of Fuller’s career with the Ducks.

After 11 months of waiting, Fuller, now in his fourth year at Oregon, is about to take the mound once again. He will be in the Oregon starting rotation just as he was when things suddenly ended last year. And the confidence that was ever-present in 2020 has carried over to 2021 despite everything that has happened since.

“It was definitely a tough time (last spring), but we’re really excited to get back to it and get this season going,” Fuller said. “We’re raring to get going. It’s been a long, long time since a lot of us played in a real game, so we’re definitely itching to get this thing going and just be out there together again. Being there on game day, there’s nothing like it and it’s tough to replicate. We’re super excited, and I know personally I am just ready to get this thing going and kicked off.”

Oregon will have to wait at least another week to make its 2021 debut after the Ducks’ series scheduled for this weekend against the University of Nebraska Omaha was canceled due to contact tracing within the program, it was announced Tuesday. Oregon is now scheduled to open its season against Seattle University on Feb. 25 in Eugene.

Either way, Fuller’s eager to get started.

And for good reason.

Fuller’s 2020 season, as short as it was, proved to be a breakout year at the collegiate level for the 6-foot-4 right-hander after he appeared exclusively out of the bullpen in 2019 and 2018.

After recording a 3.68 ERA in 16 relief appearances as a freshman, Fuller’s struggles with his control saw his ERA balloon to 7.30 in 24? innings out of the bullpen.

But the chance to start for the first time at Oregon came last spring, with each outing giving him a chance to put 2019 even further in the rearview mirror.

In four starts that spanned 19 innings, Fuller went 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk rate went from 16-to-15 in 2019 to 17-to-5 last spring, easily the best of his Oregon career.

Fuller also limited the opposition to just a .247 batting average against and allowed under a hit per inning for the first time in his collegiate career.

“I think the biggest thing for me was that I found some consistency — which had kind of been the biggest ‘what if’ for me in my time at Oregon through my freshman and sophomore years,” Fuller said. “I was successful at times, but other times — particularly when i didn’t have my best stuff — outings would kind of get away from me. I think I just found a way to compete with what I had even on days when I don’t have my best stuff and found a way to get the job done.”

Fuller was improving across the board and then the season came to an end.

He stayed in Eugene through the end of the academic year before returning home to Ashland for the summer. And because usual ways of working out weren’t available due to the pandemic, he had to be creative at times to ensure he got his work in.

“I did a bunch of laps on my stairs, that’s one of the things I did for some cardio,” Fuller said with a laugh. “Baseball, we’re one of the sports where it’s a little easier for us to train because we’re outside and we can long toss and everything. It was one of those things where I was trying to keep everything as normal as possible over the summer with throwing and keeping my arm healthy. I had to get a little creative with some of the workouts and stuff, but our strength coach was awesome with that and had some at-home workouts that allowed us to keep training when all of this started and through the summer.”

The former two-time all-state pitcher for Ashland High went from 169 pounds as a freshman to just a few ticks under the 200-pound mark entering this season, one where he is again listed as a junior after the NCAA didn’t charge spring athletes a year of eligibility due to the pandemic.

“That’s definitely been a big plus for me being a lot heavier than when I came in as a freshman,” Fuller said. “I think the biggest thing has been I’m not putting too much stress on my arm now. I find that I can bounce back quicker and the extra weight obviously helps with velocity. I need to put some more weight on, that’s the plan, but it’s definitely something I’ve worked on.

“Strength was definitely not one of my strengths when I came in as a freshman and something I’m continually working at and trying to build. Definitely, it has helped a lot with pitching and all of the aspects of the game.”

Does that mean the fastball has a little more zip now?

“Yeah, it definitely does,” Fuller said. “The biggest thing that I’ve found with the added weight has been the recovery time and my body has just been able to bounce back from long starts or when I was (pitching) in relief. Being able to be ready to go quicker and not as much aches and pains after an outing.”

Despite the weirdness and uncertainty of the offseason, Fuller feels good about where he’s at entering the 2021 season.

He said he’s thrown well through the completion of the Ducks’ fall practices and into the lead-up to the 2021 season, and his spot in the rotation is one he’s feeling more and more comfortable in.

As was the case when he first stepped into the rotation, his confidence is high and the results have been there throughout his preseason throwing sessions.

All that’s left is to actually get the chance to go out and play games.

“I’ve been feeling really good. I’ve been building off of what I did last year, finding some success,” Fuller said. “I found out what I needed to do at this level to get the job done, and I definitely think the experience and maturity played a huge part in that. I just want to keep that going and I’m feeling really confident.”

Reach Danny Penza at dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Oregon's Peyton Fuller / Photo by Eric Evans