ECU looks to jump on Tulane pitching problems

Published 5:01 pm Thursday, April 27, 2017

GREENVILLE — The East Carolina baseball team will look to pick up its second American Athletic Conference series win this weekend when the 21-21 Tulane Green Wave visit Greenville for the Pirates’ second-to-last home series of the season.

Tulane, which is 8-4 in AAC play, is coming off a big midweek win over LSU while the Pirates most recently took a loss Wednesday against N.C. State.

Last Weekend, the Green Wave took a Friday night win from Houston before dropping the Saturday and Sunday games on the road.

Tulane starting pitcher Corey Merrill led the Green Wave to the Friday night 7-1 victory. Merrill allowed just three hits against the high-powered Houston offense while walking three and hitting a batter. Merrill owns the lowest ERA of any Tulane starter, and has the second lowest on the team with a 3.59 over 62 2/3 innings.

Overall, though, pitching has not been a strong suit for the Green Wave this season. As a team, its ERA sits at 5.17 and reliever Christian Colletti holds the lowest ERA at 3.29. There has been movement among the weekend starters on the mound and the team is certainly hoping to find some consistency there before the start of the AAC tournament in late May.

The Saturday starter of late has been J.P. France, whose 4.39 ERA over a team-high 65 2/3 innings pitched. While he has struck out 47 batters this season, he has struggled with his control, allowing 21 walks. In his last outing, he surrendered six runs (five earned) against the Cougars in a game that Houston only narrowly took with a walk-off win in nine innings.

Sunday’s spot may be up in the air after Ross Massey failed to record an out and allowed four runs and gave up three walks last week. He holds a staggering 6.90 ERA on the year and has serious control problems, allowing 32 walks to just 19 strikeouts. After being pulled from the weekend rotation, Chase Solesky may be a Sunday option as well as Sam Bjorngjeld.

ECU, whose offense again went quiet in a shutout loss against N.C. State, will need to jump on the pitching issues that have plagued Tulane this year. The pressure will also stay on the ECU pitching staff this weekend as well.

Despite the impressive return of Evan Kruczynski, the depth of the starting pitching will have to improve this weekend. Jake Agnos had a solid outing in ECU’s 10-run rule victory over Cincinnati last weekend, but fellow freshman Trey Benton’s Friday night start, in which he allowed four runs over 5 1/3 innings, was not enough to deliver ECU a victory.

Despite the shutout and midweek loss against the Wolfpack, Eric Tyler still turned in a solid day at the plate, going 2-for-4 in a game where ECU had just six hits. Dwanya Williams-Sutton provided one of the other hits as he continues to swing a hot bat since returning from injury.

The Pirates and Green Wave will begin the three-game slate Friday at 6:30 p.m. before a 4 p.m. game Saturday and a 3:30 p.m. start to wrap up the series.