With a sweep over C-USA bottom-feeder Western Kentucky (4-17 in conference play) this past weekend, Tech has improved to a 11-10 C-USA record, good for 5th in the conference. As we get closer to the conference tournament, it’s worth noting only the top eight teams get in, and only two wins separate the Bulldogs from the ninth place Rice Owls (9-12). But Tech is trending in the right direction, with a five game winning streak and an 11-3 record since the heartbreaking loss to McNeese St.
So it is safe to say Tech is back to form. But what is the difference between the way the team right now and the same team that went 4-9 in an earlier stretch of the season? It’s all about pitching.
Overall Runs Against
At this point, Tech’s season can be divided into three sections. The fantastic start, the slump, and the recovery. Here is a chart of the runs given up over the three time frames:
In the blue section (games before the series against USM), Tech gave up an average of 3.6 runs per game. During the slump (red section), an average of 6.67 runs were given up, a significant increase from the beginning of the year. Starting with the Rice series (grey section), Tech has given up 4 runs per game.
The fluke Friday night game versus UAB throws off the average here. These off games are common in baseball and are difficult to avoid. So if we take away one “fluke game” from each section (Blue: 13 runs vs Arkansas; Red: 13 runs vs Charlotte, Grey: 14 vs UAB), we get the following runs allowed per game: Blue: 3.25, Red: 6.09, Grey: 3.23.
So the pitching has definitely gotten back on track during this 11-3 run. But how?
Well, the most obvious change is Nate Harris’s move into the starting rotation. Harris made his second start (and second complete game shut out) for the Bulldogs on the third game of this 14 game span. He started and is responsible for 4 of the 11 wins in this span. There is much more to say about Harris, most of which is in the previous post.
When Harris left the bullpen to be put in the staring rotation, it left a large hole in the rotation. Not only was he the closer, he was able to come into the game in almost any inning and finish the game. Luckily a few pitchers have stepped up and mostly filled this gap.
Kent Hasler, a former starter, has been put in the position of the typical “closer.” Since the change, Hasler has earned 4 saves and has only given up 1 run. His ERA on the year is still a not-great 4.00, but has significantly dropped as Hasler enjoys his success in the bullpen.
Graham Alrich is one of the few pitchers that has been consistently good for the Bulldogs this year. He posts a fantastic 1.78 ERA in 30 innings pitched. Alrich’s role this year has been that of a late innings guy. He will come in the seventh or eight inning and hold the lead until Hasler or Harris come in to get the save.
Kyle Griffen has come out of nowhere in the second half of the year. The true freshman from Sulphur has only made six appearances for the Dogs, but holds a 1.89 ERA in 19 innings pitched. Griffen has typically come midway into a game and stay in for multiple innings. This past Friday shows what Griffen can do for the Bulldogs. He entered the game in the third inning when Tech was facing a 3-0 deficit. He gave up a couple runs in five innings pitched, but kept Tech close enough to go on to win 6-5.
While the bullpen seems to have things figured out, the starting rotation still needs work. Recently, the three pitchers outside of Harris that have started a game are Cameron Linck, Casey Sutton, and Matt Miller.
Linck made starts in both of the past two weekend series, but did not look good. On the Sunday game against UAB he pitched four innings and gave up 3 runs. He looked worse on this Friday against WKU, where we also gave up 3 runs, but this time in only two innings. Linck has a 3.86 ERA on the year (reasonably good for a starter), so it is possible Linck is just in a personal slump and he’ll recover soon.
Sutton is responsible for 7 of the 14 runs UAB scored in the runaway game two weekends ago. While this was worse than his usual, Sutton has an abysmal 6.62 ERA on the year. He did not make a start this weekend, but I would expect him to get another start soon. With the starting pitching being as inconsistent as it has been, Coach Burroughs is in a position where he can give Sutton a redemption shot.
While he had made 10 appearances previously, Miller did not start a game for Tech until the midweek game against UALR a couple weeks ago. Miller did not look good in that game, allowing 4 runs in less than 3 innings. He redeemed himself yesterday when he only allowed 1 run in 6 innings. Because of this small sample size, it is yet to be seen how Miller will do as a starter.
Even though there is a lot of uncertainty concerning Tech’s pitching ranks, the Bulldogs are in a reasonably good place. The bullpen is starting to show its strength, and while the starting rotation has been iffy at best, it is trending in the right direction.