Seven players on the Yale baseball roster hail from Florida, but the disappointing spring break homecoming probably left those Bulldogs, and the rest of the team, eager to return to cooler climates.
The Bulldogs (6-12) dropped all six games in the Sunshine State and finished their spring break campaign with a paltry 4-11 record. The team managed to pick up wins against Davidson (15-11), Richmond (22-33), Furman (8-14) and Navy (17-9) but had difficulty limiting many opponents offensively. In the team’s 11 losses, the Elis gave up an average of 12 runs, and the pitching staff heads into the Ivy League schedule carrying a less-than-satisfactory 8.45 ERA.
“It was a combination of a lot of different things,” Chris Wietlispach ’08 said. “Our starters need to go deeper [into games], and we’ve had problems with our defense.”
Yale’s expected starting rotation of Wietlispach, Steve Gilman ’08 , Brian Irving ’08 and Brandon Josselyn ’09 has pitched inconsistently over the past few weeks, though the group seemed to get on track this weekend when Gilman and Josselyn gave up only four earned runs in 14.2 innings of work against the Midshipmen of Navy. The Elis may also begin to look more to setup and relief man Stefan Schropp ’09, who has made five game appearances this season, picking up a team-best two wins and a 3.68 ERA.
“The pitchers are really doing better than their numbers show,” captain Justin Ankney ’07 said. “Our defense has been shaky. There have been too many errors.”
The Bulldogs have committed 32 errors already this season, nearly two a game.
While Yale struggles to find stability on the mound and in the field, the Bulldogs appear to have little trouble finding it at the plate. The team is batting an impressive .307 with three everyday starters batting well over .300. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway ’09 is among those players who has made a major offensive contribution this season. The sophomore is batting .456 with a team-high six home runs and 27 RBIs. His performances with the bat, which include a current 18-game hitting streak, were good enough to earn him Ivy League Player of the Week last week.
In the leadoff spot, Josh Cox ’08 has batted .377, up 76 points from last season. The centerfielder has been able to jumpstart the Elis’ offense, converting on eight of nine stolen base attempts and playing with a .407 on base percentage. Reliable Marc Sawyer ’07, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, has scored 24 runs and like much of the lineup, looks to be in good form heading into the Ancient Eight weekends.
“People know and understand their roles,” Lavarnway said. “We’ve focused a lot on becoming a power hitting team, and I think the hitting is only going to get better as we go on this season.”
Lavarnway said he believes the Bulldogs may see even better power numbers when the team faces Ivy League pitchers willing to throw them more fastballs and challenge them from the mound.
Cox said he thinks the batters have learned a great deal when they faced strong pitching over the spring break trip.
“It’s like baptism by fire,” Cox said. “We used to get caught up in striking out, and we wouldn’t always get the big hit, but now we’re showing the ability to be a good batting ball club.”
The Elis also used the trip as an opportunity to look at some of the younger, more inexperienced players on the team. Pitcher Chris Finneran ’10 has been solid in 13 innings of work, including an impressive outing against Ohio State. Leftfielder Stephen Miehls ’10 is slowly becoming an everyday starter for the Bulldogs and will enter this Wednesday’s game with a .261 batting average.
“Some of the freshmen have filled into the roles we needed them for,” Ankney said. “The coaches have been happy with them.”
Wietlispach said one or two freshmen have a chance to make a real impact coming out of the bullpen. He said there will be many younger pitchers who get into Ancient Eight games this season.
Despite the positives, the team feels the sting of so many losses over spring break and knows there are still many improvements to be made as the Ivy League season begins this weekend.
“We’re learning what we have to do to get better,” Lavarnway said. “We know these games won’t affect our championship hopes, but we still care about the [spring break] games. Pitchers still want to throw strikes, and batters still want to hit.”
Lavarnway and others recognize the talent the Elis faced in Florida and down the East Coast is probably stronger than what they expect from Ivy League opponents.
Wednesday’s game against Connecticut, Yale’s home opener, begins a “second season” for the team — one that they hope goes a little better than the first.