Peeled right off the mound in a 1980s baseball card, size, 'stache and all, Scott Sitz has always been FSU's bastion of levity. That hasn't changed in 2013.
What has changed is parlaying the persona with spectacular results.
Sitz, who entered the year with a career 4.45 ERA compiled in a host of pitching roles, has been lights out as a senior starter, going 9-1 in 13 starts with a 1.66 ERA. Ace and jester is a unique 1-2 punch Sitz provides for FSU, and he'll take the ball as the 'Noles begin ACC Tournament play against Georgia Tech on Wednesday. First pitch is set for 11 a.m. ET.
"He is the ultimate college senior pitcher," FSU pitching coach Mike Bell said. "He's been through everything whether it's good or bad, he's a great team guy whether it's his day to start or whether it's the other six days where he can make his teammates better."
The numbers speak volumes: Sitz has allowed just one solo home run in 76 innings pitched and he has allowed one earned run or fewer in 10 of his 13 starts. He also ranks fourth in the ACC in ERA and second in wins.
"This year has been a lot of fun. Being able to finally pitch how I feel like I've always been able to if I can ever just put consistent start after consistent start together," said Sitz, a Jacksonville native. "And this year, I've finally been able to do it with the help of my defense and Coach Bell working with me on off days. It's just been a fun year so far."
It could be a record year, too. If Sitz holds form, he'll post the lowest season ERA of any FSU pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched since Scooby Morgan (1.46) in 1995. Outside of Morgan, no pitcher has finished a year with an ERA better than 1.66 in 38 years.
Sitz and Bell date the improvement back to the College World Series last season when Sitz struck out eight UCLA batters in 6.2 shutout innings. It was there when Sitz says he found his slider, a pitch that has been become a weapon in 2013. Ranking second in the conference in strikeouts looking (31) is a testament to the effectiveness of Sitz' go-to breaking pitch.
With the early success this season - he opened the year with 22 straight scoreless innings - confidence snowballed.
"I think it's an accumulation of four years," Bell said. "I think he's gone through some good things early on and gone through some bad points and just learning how to manage the game, being older, being wiser. Taking those experiences of throwing in Omaha, throwing in the postseason.
"The experiences he's had, there's no doubt there's a confidence - there's really nothing he hasn't been through in this league, whether it's pitching on the road at different places or pitching at home. He's been trough it all, and the confidence level has carried over."
Catcher Stephen McGee has seen the slider progress as well as Sitz' approach. When something is working he uses it, when it's not, he's mature enough to stay away.
"If you go out there and you can't handle the pressure, you know, things that are happening, if you can't control your emotions on the mound you're screwed as soon as you go out there," catcher McGee said. "Maturity, it's huge, for him to be able to go out there and adjust and know what he's doing. And it has translated all year."
When it's not a start day, the seriousness takes a breather as Sitz works the dugout. He makes up half of the "Mustache Mafia" with reliever Gage Smith, and both have made habit of mugging for the TV cameras in recent weeks. During one start, Sitz's photo was compared side-by-side to the famous (and fictional) pitcher Kenny Powers. Bell said Sitz bring relaxation and looseness to a young team that needs it.
"The one thing I did know going into it was that he was a competitor," said Bell, who took over at pitching coach last season. Since then, Sitz had seen his ERA drop from 5.92 before Bell arrived to 3.72 last year and 1.66 this year.
"Players come in different shapes and sizes and stuff like that, so once you get past that, you go OK, No. 1 he's logged a lot of innings for a guy here in a number of different roles. The one thing he has always done is throw strikes and competed. But what you really get to learn about him and what type of team guy he is, the days that he's not pitching what he means to this team."
In any phase of the game, Sitz has never been more valuable.
"What he's done this year," Smith said. "It's pretty special."