Baseball head coach John Stuper literally threw almost everything he had at the University of Connecticut in Yale’s home opener, but the revolving-door progression of Eli pitchers was unable to tame the Huskies’ bats.
The Bulldogs (6-13) went through nine different pitchers in the same number of innings on their way to an 18-7 loss to a fairly strong UConn team. The Elis often use multiple pitchers during midweek non-conference games in order to get them work in live situations, but giving up 18 runs on 20 hits to the Huskies (9-10) was not in the plan for yesterday’s game. The situation was so unexpected that Stuper felt compelled to call a pitchers-only meeting following the game to discuss their performance.
Starter Chris Wietlispach ’08 gave up four earned runs in his two innings of work. His early season struggles continue as he searches for control on the mound and fights to stay ahead of batters in the count. Brian Irving ’08 and Steve Gilman ’08, both starters in the normal rotation, gave up five runs each in a 10-run sixth inning for the Huskies that kept Yale far from the lead for the rest of the game. Top closer Brett Rosenthal ’07 had similar trouble on the mound, surrendering two runs and three hits in his one inning.
“We’re starting to worry about the performances we’ve been having,” Wietlispach said. “And I’m probably at the top of that list.”
The best performances came from the more inexperienced pitchers. Chris Finneran ’10, Matthew Smith ’10, Brandon Josselyn ’09 and Chris Walsh ’09 each threw a scoreless inning. Josselyn, who is expected to fill the fourth spot in the starting rotation, looked especially impressive with his command and composure on the hill. He gave up one hit and struck out one batter.
Wietlispach said he expects the pitchers who have seen good innings to get more playing time in future games.
While pitching depth is important, especially during Ivy League weekends, offensive consistency is equally necessary. The Bulldogs were batting .303 as a team coming into Wednesday’s contest and managed to maintain their current hot streak by amassing seven runs and 18 hits against UConn.
Some on the team even said they felt that their hitting was improving.
“Over the spring break trip, we didn’t have a lot of time to practice,” shortstop Dan Soltman ’08 said. “We spent the last couple of days getting back to basics. Hitting is all about a good approach.”
One player who benefited from the additional practice sessions this week was captain Justin Ankney ’07. The second baseman entered the game batting .234, 55 points lower than where he finished last season. On Wednesday he went four-for-five at the plate, including a two-run bomb over the centerfield wall. He finished with two runs and three RBIs.
“Yesterday we took two hours of batting practice and then I stayed another hour to work on my own,” Ankney said. “It felt great today. I was hoping to get my swing back by conference time.”
Ankney said his struggles prior to this game were a result of many factors, including strong competition and a grueling spring break schedule that didn’t allow much time for hitters to work on their swings.
Quietly in all of this, catcher and right fielder Ryan Lavarnway ’09 has extended his hitting streak to 19 games. He went three for five against the Huskies.
As the pitching staff works itself out, the offense will need to be strong heading into the Ivy League schedule. The Bulldogs will open up conference play on Saturday with a double header against Cornell (6-9) and will then travel south to meet with Princeton (4-11) for another double-header on Sunday.
The Bulldogs beat the Big Red twice last season and split with the Tigers. Both Cornell and Princeton play in the Ivy League’s Gehrig Division, which the Tigers won last year. The Elis play in the Rolfe Division and will see both of the teams only twice this season.
“How we play this weekend may show how we play for the rest of the Ivy League season,” Wietlispach said. “We’d like to get wins against teams from the other division.”
The Elis must be aware of strong bats from the two opponents.
Cornell’s second baseman, Jimmy Heinz, has been batting especially well of late, and earned Ivy League Honor Roll honors for collecting a team-high eight hits over six games last week. Teammate Domenic Di Ricco leads the Big Red with a .339 batting average and has also driven in five runs.
Princeton possesses its own offensive power in the form of senior Sal Iacono, a catcher hitting .417 this season. Teammate Greg Van Horn is batting .396 and has compiled a team-high 15 runs.
“Princeton is always really good,” Ankney said. “We have Cornell first and it’s going to be tough not to look past them. Ivy League games are always really close and they all count.”
The critical part of the season has arrived for the Bulldogs, and hopefully their arms can shake the tough outing yesterday and get prepared for the grudge matches to come.