ECU’s bullpen drives early success for PiratesPublished 12:32pm Thursday, February 20, 2014
By Michael Prunka
In the young season, East Carolina’s pitching has made a 180-degree turnaround from what it was just a year ago. The performance of the bullpen has epitomized this drastic improvement.
Returning pitchers like Jeff Hoffman and David Lucroy have jumped back into the weekend rotation, while newcomers, like Davis Kirkpatrick, are also getting thrown into the starting mix. Kirkpatrick earned his first collegiate win on Tuesday in an 8-3 routing of Campbell, allowing five hits and three runs (two earned) in five innings pitched. He amassed five strikeouts as well.
“If you’re going to be good in one area,” said head coach Billy Godwin, “you want to be good on the mound. I say this all the time: when you can pitch, you’re in every game. When you can hit, you’re never out of a game. I think as we continue to grow as an offensive unit, we’re going to get better and better and guys are going to get their feet under them. If I have a choice, I’d rather be good on the mound.”
The Pirates had an experience that showed them a strong performance on the mound can keep them in any game. When ECU lost a 5-2 game to JMU, Brett Mabry, Jacob Wolfe and Reid Love were able to come in and provide seven innings in relief with only three hits and an unearned run allowed. Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t score the needed runs for a comeback.
A strong mix of returning starters and talented new additions allowed for Godwin to really emphasize the strength of his bullpen.
“[The bullpen] is huge,” said Godwin after Sunday’s win against James Madison. “When we started talking about those things, you want to be good and you want your starters to be good. With [Drew] Reynolds back and Mabry, who was very good last year, and having Ryan Williams in that new role is good. It will be big for us as the season goes on because you feel like you get better as the game goes on.”
Williams is perhaps the strongest addition to the bullpen. In 2013, he appeared in 18 contests and started 15 of them, which is just as many starts as Hoffman had. In that time, he amassed a 6-2 record with a 4.50 ERA, giving up 55 runs (48 earned) and striking out 45 players.
Since becoming exclusive to the bullpen, Williams has made two relief appearances and was credited with wins in both. In the combined 6.1 innings pitched, he allowed five hits and an unearned run.
“These guys are all competitors,” said Williams. “Starters, relievers—we all just want to be on the mound competing for one another. So, whether we’re a reliever or a starter, we do our best to get outs and get it to the next guy.”
That kind of cooperation makes not only the bullpen excel, but helps the entire pitching staff as a whole. Having talent like Williams, Reynolds, Mabry and Luke Bolka ready for relief takes a lot of pressure off the starter.
“It takes that stress off your back,” said Hoffman. “I don’t have to go into the eighth inning or the ninth inning every game. I can get it to the seventh and say, ‘Hey guys, take it from here.’ It’s going to take a lot of stress off our arms going into the conference tournament and going into the postseason. It’ll be huge for us.”
Reynolds rounds out the bullpen staff as the team’s go-to closer. He’s made two appearances in that role and has yet to surrender a hit or a run. In the two ninth inning showings, he’s recorded three strikeouts, too.
The Diamond Bucs and its skilled group of pitchers head to Charlottesville, Va. to take on top-ranked Virginia. They’ll need talent across the board, not just at the mound, if they hope to topple one of the nation’s top teams.