Stepping Up: My Take: Coming down to consistency

Published 5:35 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Now a month into the American Athletic Conference baseball season, East Carolina sits comfortably in third place with another four series left to play.

Things look bright still for the Pirates, who were recently named as a potential No. 2 seed in the Raleigh Regional by D1Baseball. The Pirates have a critical series against top-conference-team Cincinnati coming up this weekend.

The weekend starting staff that has anchored the Pirates’ ship to this point of the season, Jacob Wolfe, Jimmy Boyd and Evan Kruczynski each hold an ERA below 2.50. Kruczynski has a staff-low 1.51 ERA and is a perfect 5-0. Boyd was moved to the Saturday role at the start of conference play and has answered the bell. His control has improved over last season and it is paying dividends for the senior. Wolfe has been consistent in the Sunday role, as well, since flipping days with Boyd.

The bullpen, however, has diluted the effectiveness of the starters. Nick Durazo was expected to return as one of the team’s top relievers. He has been effective in some of his outings, but four midweek starts have not treated the senior well. His ERA has ballooned to 4.35 in 14 appearances and four starts, though he should still be heavily used out of the bullpen.

Sophomore closer Joe Ingle has been hit-or-miss in his follow-up campaign off a Freshman All-American season. Last year, pressure situations were his thriving points. He is known for issuing a walk or two before settling down and getting out of the inning, and often ending the game in victory for the Pirates. However, in recent appearances, Ingle has let the early-inning missteps get to him and has earned three losses in 20 appearances. It may be time to find a way to settle in without allowing base runners early in his appearances.

Another pressing issue for the Pirates is offensive consistency. The Pirates have found success against some top-tier pitchers and have taken series leads early. Sunday matchups and midweek games have been the bane of ECU’s season thus far. The Pirates have lost potential series sweeps in conference play twice with Sunday losses and are 2-3 in midweek games since the start of conference play as the offense has struggled against weaker pitchers.

The Pirates still have four batters over .300 on the season in Dawanya Williams-Sutton, Parker Lamm, Travis Watkins and Garrett Brooks. Brooks was known for his glove his first three seasons as a Pirate, but since the AAC tournament a year ago, his bat has come alive. His .301 average is fourth on the team and he has played in all 41 games the Pirates have played in this season. The surge of Eric Tyler offensively has helped curb the loss of Luke Lowery from last year’s Regional team.

The current Pirates have a great deal of experience from the Regional last year. Turner Brown, Williams-Sutton and Zack Mozingo (the later two have split time in left field late this season) are the lone starters without the experience of last year’s Regional trip.

Freshman and first-year relievers have made an immediate impact. Sam Lanier, Matt Bridges and Chris Holba have been effective in their first season at ECU and should make a bigger impact down the stretch.

The combination of youth and experience has anchored the Pirates to this point of the season. The question still remains how they will bear down during the long grind of the early-summer season. Much of this will be revealed shortly. The student-athletes finish up final exams next week and the grind will begin there.

This weekend will show a lot about this ECU team as the Pirates take on top-seeded Cincinnati. A series win would push the Pirates past the Bearcats in the conference standings and make for an interesting finish to the conference season for the Pirates. It will all come down to consistency from the bullpen and the bats.