ECU’s search for bona fide closer continues

Published 10:28 am Friday, May 1, 2015

GREENVILLE — East Carolina head coach Cliff Godwin didn’t mince words last weekend when he addressed his bullpen’s struggles.

“We just don’t have [a closer] on our staff,” Godwin said. “That’s no offense to anybody that we have, but you know you have to be really good to be that guy. You just don’t see those guys very often.”

Godwin was fresh off of a series-ending victory over conference-foe Central Florida and he was perhaps lucky to have escaped the weekend with a series win.

His bullpen, which has been one of the team’s weakest spots this season, struggled mightily, almost blowing two victories over the weekend, but benefited from timely, late hitting by ECU’s offense.

In the first game of the series, Evan Kruczynski went without a decision, despite holding UCF’s offense to just two runs through his seven innings of work. He also exited the game with his team holding a commanding 5-2 lead.

Relievers Jimmy Boyd and Nick Durazo could only make it through two combined innings and allowed three runs, sending the game to extra innings, where the Pirates would eventually squeak out a 6-5 victory.

Inserted into the role of a closer, the only hit Durazo allowed was a game tying, ninth inning home run. It nearly cost the Pirates the win and potentially the series.

The final game of the series saw a near-epic collapse, as the ECU bullpen had to use three pitchers in the ninth inning, the trio allowing three runs, enough to send the game to extras yet again.

The question begs, especially considering that the Pirates have fully inserted themselves in the post-season conversation, will Godwin find a go-to ninth inning pitcher akin to last year’s closer Drew Reynolds, or will he be forced to use a plethora of unproven relievers in an attempt to preserve precious, late-season wins?

According to Godwin, the answer isn’t so difficult, as he pointed to a record-breaking closer like Reynolds as simply an anomaly.

“A lot of teams don’t have that one guy,” Godwin said. “That’s tough to come by. If a team can find that guy they’d love to do it.”

Six pitchers have at least one save so far this season and Reid Love leads all Pirate arms with four.

The senior Love has since been moved to the rotation, leaving freshman Joe Ingle and Durazo, a junior, tied with a bullpen-leading two saves.

“We go to different guys,” Godwin said. “You’ve got to use them in roles where they can find success in. We just don’t have a closer on the staff this year and that’s okay.”

While ECU’s bullpen has a respectable 3.85-combined ERA, its lack of depth has inhibited the team at times, especially during weeks such as last week where the Pirates play five games in six days.

Even when the lack of arms reared its ugly head over the weekend, the bullpen hasn’t yet lost the confidence of its teammates.

“They’ve been struggling as of late,” utility player Luke Lowery said of his bullpen after Sunday’s win. “We’re going to put those guys on our backs. There are no trust issues down there in the bullpen.”

Time is running out for the Pirates and they are tied in a four-way tie for first place in the American Athletic Conference. A strong finish to the season would seemingly put them in the driver’s seat for a potential regional, but securing late-game victories on the mound would be instrumental in that coming to fruition.