It was a blunt discussion over lunch, and in retrospect, it helped turbocharge the Seton Hall baseball team.
In late April, during a road trip to Xavier, catcher Jedier Hernandez implored starting pitcher Danny Frontera to go deeper into his bag.
“I told him to start throwing his 12-6 curveball,” Hernandez said of a curveball that breaks downward in a straight line. “Your best pitch is the 12-6, trust it and you’ll be fine. Since then, he’s been killing it.”
Frontera, a Middletown High School North graduate, is the Pirates’ No. 2 starters heading into this week’s Big East Tournament. The sophomore’s emergence alongside ace pitcher Nick Payero (a Monroe High School grad) has helped the Hall win six straight and finish third in the conference. They open the double-elimination tourney Wednesday against second-seeded Xavier in Mason, Ohio. Payero gets the ball Wednesday, Frontera Thursday. Hernandez will be prodding them all the way.
“Jedi is a huge part of the team, very vocal behind the plate,” said Frontera, who bonded with his catcher last summer as roommates and teammates in the Appalachian League. “He’s definitely helped me with my mindset on the mound. We’re always brutally honest with each other, but having that friendship there, knowing the truth, there’s no hiding from it. That’s very important.”
Both were raised in the sport.
Frontera’s father, Chad Frontera, pitched for Seton Hall in the 1990s and was college teammates with current Pirate skipper Rob Sheppard.
“He was always my role model, coached me all the way up,” said Danny, whose younger brother Ryan is an infielder for Middletown North and is committed to play for the Hall next spring. “I must have been 3 years old when he first put a ball in my hands. My mom always tells me I was always throwing shoes or whatever I could get hold of.”
Hernandez’s mother is cousins with the famous Molina brothers – Bengie Molina, Jose Molina and Yadier Molina, all of whom won World Series rings as Major League catchers.
“It runs in the family,” said Hernandez, who is particularly close with Bengie. “When I was in high school the thing they always said was, ‘Get the degree.’ Back then I was like, ‘What? I want to go straight to pros.’ But they obviously knew way more than I did, about what I needed. It’s been a blessing. Now I know what they were talking about – I’d be in the minors struggling.”
Hernandez’s management of the Pirates’ pitchers is a key reason why their record is 31-22 after going 18-35 in 2022.
“You have someone you can trust behind the plate, who understands what your capable of doing and doesn’t have a problem pushing you to that,” Sheppard said. “He knows what button to push. That relationship between Jedi and Danny is a good example.”
This is Frontera’s first year as a collegiate starter after coming out of the bullpen as a freshman. It’s a big adjustment, but he’s getting the hang of it – with a nudge or two from his battery-mate.
“Danny started a little down this year, but he’s been figuring it out,” Hernandez said. “That’s what we need from him in this tournament.”
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball beat since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Seton Hall baseball rolls into Big East Tournament