LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Baseball insiders say a pitcher can prove his fearlessness by demanding to pitch the ninth inning. Guys eager to throw the ball inside also have that gift of grit.

Kyle Funkhouser has pitched into the ninth inning for the University of Louisville. He’s never been unwilling to pitch inside. Fear? It’s no factor with Funkhouser.

This summer Funkhouser added another line to the fearless section of his resume.

He declined a signing bonus from the Los Angeles Dodgers that was reportedly between $1.7 and $2 million. Instead Funkhouser, a powerful right-hander, will pitch his senior season at U of L for scholarship money. You don’t need a calculator to do the math.

“At this point last year, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be coming back,” Funkhouser said.

Drafted 35th by the Dodgers, Funkhouser was the highest drafted player not to sign a professional contract. Word is he never even made a trip to L.A. to talk to the team.

Funkhouser moved all of his chips onto the Kyle Funkhouser square, saying that he can pitch better and earn a more lucrative signing bonus in the 2016 MLB Free Agent Draft.

Funkhouser said his father did not graduate from college. Neither did his older brother. A factor? You bet. But let’s be honest. He could have completed his degree in several off-seasons as a pro.

This was a bold statement that Kyle Funkhouser believes in Kyle Funkhouser more than all the teams that passed on him in the draft believed in him.

“The biggest thing was we just couldn’t really come to terms,” Funkhouser said. “Like I said, it was tough.

“A lot of thought with my parents, family, brothers, and stuff like that. My grandma played a big role.”

Even though he could pitch worse and sign for less.

Even though every pitcher is at risk to injure an elbow or shoulder any time he winds up.

“There’s risk with everything, honestly,” he said, “I guess, yeah in a way. But if I would have signed, there’s also the risk that you could get hurt there and you could get hurt here and I’ll have my degree to fall back on.”

Even though next season he could be drafted by the As or Brewers or Indians.

This was the Dodgers. Sandy Koufax pitched for the Dodgers. So did Don Drysdale. Orel Hershiser. Fernando Valenzuela. Clayton Kershaw. Zach Greinke.

That’s confidence. That’s swagger. That’s no fear.

“Like you said, to the average person, it might seem like a lot,” Funkhouser said at Jim Patterson Stadium, his home for another season.

“But to me and my family there was other things that weighed heavier than just the money and trying to play professional baseball right now.”

He will return to pitch his senior season for the Cardinals, determined to prove he is better than the 35th overall draft pick, even though he could be selected 10th or 210th. next June. He’ll enter the pros without bargaining power next spring because it will be his fourth and final college season.

Funkhouser was supposed to be taken in the top 10 picks last June. That is where he was projected before the season. That is where he was still being projected into April.

Then Funkhouser stopped pitching like a first-round draft selection. His strikeouts were down. His hits per inning were up. His earned run average climbed by more than one run per game. Teams got worried.

Maybe it was the delayed impact from the 2014 season when Funkhouser pitched U of L to the College World Series and then competed with the U.S national team. That’s a lot of innings. Maybe it was the pressure of trying to hold his spot in the draft.

Or maybe it was that he had never failed in baseball much before – and eventually everybody fails in baseball.

“I was just pressing a little bit too hard,” he said. “I was used to going out there and pitching well kind of no matter what.

“I didn’t a couple of times in a row. I think I just squeezed the ball a little tighter. In baseball you can’t do that. You’ve got to be relaxed.”

Now he can relax. Work on his breaking ball and changeup. Serve as a leader on a Cardinals’ team that should open next season ranked among the top five, or at worst, top 10 teams in the country.

Show that he really is a top 10 selection deserving of a more substantial signing bonus.

Wasn’t it only three years ago when Stanford right-handed pitcher Mark Appel was drafted eighth by the Pittsburgh Pirates and declined to sign because he did not like the offer?

Appel returned for another season – and went first in the 2013 draft to the Houston Astros. He’s currently pitching in Triple-A, a phone call away from the major leagues.

“Any kind of improvement,” Funkhouser said. “That would be great.”

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