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Baseball Season Previews: Cody ready to shine on weekends

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Kyle Cody, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound righthander, is rated as the seventh-best sophomore in college baseball by Baseball America. (Photo by Chet White, UK athletics) Kyle Cody, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound righthander, is rated as the seventh-best sophomore in college baseball by Baseball America. (Photo by Chet White, UK athletics)
This is the fourth of a 10-part series previewing the Kentucky baseball season, leading up to the opener vs. No. 1 Virginia on Feb. 14 in Wilmington, N.C. Part one (A.J. Reed), part two (Matt Reida), part three (Kyle Barrett). 

Never before had rivals Kentucky and Louisville met with both teams ranked in the top 10.

It was early April and with both teams off to near identical starts, the matchup between the two in-state foes - a rivalry that dates back to 1925 - was billed as vitally important.

Kentucky turned to freshman right-hander Kyle Cody to make the start at Jim Patterson Stadium, in front of a UL record 4,733 fans.

A 6-foot-7, 245-pounder, Cody delivered in his biggest pitching outing of a short, yet tantalizing career.

The former Gatorade Wisconsin High School Player of the Year fired a then career-long 6.1 innings, allowing four hits and three runs - two earned - walking one and striking out four.

"This is the most people I've ever pitched in front of before," Cody said after the emotional win that ended with a 5-4 result in 10 innings. "I had to calm myself down before the game. The main thing when I was on the mound: I had to breathe. That was the biggest thing. When you start getting base runners on, you just gotta breathe and relax and throw the ball where you want."

After the game it was undeniable that Cody was growing into the type of dominant arm the Wildcats have had on their pitching staff since 2007.

"Sure he (grew up)," Henderson said after that Louisville start. "It was a full house here against a really good club. An absolute disaster there at the beginning of the third inning and we just flat out handed them two runs. I was really interested in keeping him in the game at the point. I wanted to get him through that. Fortunately, he was able to get past it, found his rhythm and was really pretty impressive in the fourth, fifth and sixth."

It was the first quality start of the year for Cody, who would secure a spot in the weekend rotation by the final three weeks of the year.

"After that Louisville game I gained a lot of confidence," Cody said. "It was the first time I had thrown in front of that many people and I did well. It gave me confidence moving forward and I just went from there."

Cody, a native of Chippewa Falls, Wis., put together some strong outings, culminating with another dominant midweek start, his last of the year, in an 18-inning marathon at Western Kentucky. Cody worked six innings, striking out seven and allowing just one run.

His next outing came as his first career Southeastern Conference start, facing off with No. 14 Arkansas in the final game of a crucial series at Cliff Hagan Stadium. A 33rd-round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies, Cody allowed three runs on four hits and two UK errors in the first inning. He then found a rhythm, allowing only three hits over his final six shutout innings of work.

"Obviously that start strengthened it my confidence," Cody said. "I felt really good that game. Obviously that first inning wasn't how we planned. But you just have to get over that and move on. It gave me a lot of confidence that I belonged here and that I could pitch against anyone."

He went on to fire a quality start in his following start vs. No. 1 Vanderbilt, allowing three runs in six innings, before posting 5.1 innings and allowing three runs on three hits in his freshman finale at Missouri.

Overall, Cody appeared in 15 games with 10 starts in 2013, owning a 3-3 record and a 4.84 ERA, striking out 47 in 57.2 innings. In SEC play, Cody appeared in five games with three starts, working 20.1 innings with a 3.10 ERA.

"I just learned to relax in pressure situations," Cody said about 2013. "I wasn't used to a lot of pressure in making outs in key situations. I was just always able to do that without a problem. Moving up to the next level is a lot difficult and you have to use different ways to get people out."

After the summer, Cody ventured to the Cape Cod League, where he pitched in two games for the Wareham Gateman before returning home with a minor injury. In his first start, Cody worked six shutout, two-hit innings. He ended the summer by allowing five hits and five runs in a three-inning start.

"It was fun, getting to meet new guys and play with different players around the country and to see the different aspects and different expertise on the game," Cody said.

Entering the 2014 season, a strength that jumps off the page is Kentucky's three-man weekend rotation. With junior southpaw A.J. Reed, junior Chandler Shepherd and Cody, the Wildcats have a trio of talented, experience arms.

In fact, in Baseball America's extensive college preseason preview, Cody was ranked as the seventh-best sophomore in college baseball. His rotation mates were also honored, with Shepherd tabbed as the 70th-best and Reed the 85th-best college prospect available in the 2014 MLB Draft.

"It is different than previous years," Cody said. "It has been usually lefties but this year we will have a couple righties in there. We all have different strengths and it will keep the other team off balance. With A.J. throwing and Shep throwing, everyone has different strengths and ways to get people out."

The Wildcats enter the season prepared to make another run at the SEC Championship it last won in 2006 and narrowly missed in 2012.

"The chemistry feels a lot better," Cody said. "The older guys are taking the younger guys under their wing and welcoming them here. It makes it easier for the younger kids, to give them more confidence. We need everyone on this team. When the younger guys feel like they belong here, it makes it a lot easier."

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