Over the course of his high school career, Nutley’s Joe DeLanzo has been one of North Jersey’s best infielders. But as valuable as his play at shortstop has been for the last two years, the Maroon Raiders’ fortunes shifted when he was able to return to the position he won’t be playing in college — pitcher.
Since making his return to the mound on April 20, DeLanzo, a Stony Brook University commit as an infielder, has pitched 14 ⅔ scoreless innings, allowing just two hits, three walks and two hit batsmen with 16 strikeouts.
The most impressive of those outings came in Wednesday’s Greater Newark Tournament quarterfinals as DeLanzo needed just 86 pitches to throw a masterful two-hit shutout against a Caldwell team ranked No. 19 in the state by NJ.com.
DeLanzo’s recent performance on the mound, as well as his continued excellence at the plate and in the field makes him this week’s Observer Athlete of the Week.
Since pitching 5 ⅔ hitless innings in a 1-0 victory over Montclair on April 20, Nutley has gone 7-3 as it bounced back from a 3-5 start to reach the GNT semifinals where it lost to rival Bloomfield on Saturday.
While it is easy to pinpoint DeLanzo’s return to the mound as the turning point in the Raiders’ season, he refuses to take credit for it. Instead, he sees a veteran core that has made big plays when they needed it the most.
“I honestly think it’s more coincidental,” said DeLanzo after the Caldwell win. “We’ve had a bunch of close games and we were finally able to string some hits together and that’s what I think was a big difference maker.
“We’ve always been confident, we just knew we had to keep swinging and keep being aggressive and attack the game. We’ve played with each other since we were really, really young and we’ve always been excited to play our senior year together. So we just knew we’d turn it around.”
Identifying the key to DeLanzo’s success on the mound is far easier. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound righty throws almost exclusively fastballs when he’s out there. He credits his dad and longtime coach Joe Sr. for helping him identify different pressure points on the baseball, which allows him to consistently throw his two-seam fastball for strikes while constantly keeping hitters off-balanced.
“My movement and the pressure points I use that my dad taught me to use,” DeLanzo explained. “The pressure points, that’s what has helped me on the mound.
“My pitching coach (Chris Weinstein) laughs about it because all I really throw is my fastball. I usually don’t throw more than five curveballs a game. I really just stick to throwing my fastball and hitting my spots.”
Unsure of if he’d be able to pitch, DeLanzo’s focus during the fall and winter was more on being able to play shortstop for Nutley this season.
At the plate, the lefty swinging DeLanzo is hitting an eye-popping .423 on the season and currently leads the team in hits (22), RBI (18), runs (13), home runs (4) and walks (8).
In Tuesday’s first round victory over West Orange, DeLanzo went 3-for-4 with four RBI, including an opposite field home run to left field and a ground rule double to the right field corner.
“My goal was to always be prepared for shortstop since that’s my primary position so I wanted to make sure my arm was good for that,” DeLanzo said. “I was always confident with that, but I didn’t know how I was going to be able to pitch or how effective I was going to be.
“I always trust my stuff and always trust the people around me that have helped me so much. I felt like I had a good opportunity to be successful.”
And as he’s shown this season, with DeLanzo on the mound or up at bat, Nutley’s chances of success are always high.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)