#TGW: For Starters...

April 12, 2014

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

With most starting pitchers, you either get to them early or you don’t get them at all.

Nobody’s getting to Georgia Tech’s starting pitchers these days, early or late. Florida State certainly didn’t in the Yellow Jackets’ 12-4 victory, yesterday afternoon at Russ Chandler Stadium.

It’s a big reason why the Yellow Jackets are riding an eight-game winning streak, have assured themselves a series victory and can go for a sweep of the Seminoles as they head into today’s 1 p.m. season finale against top-ranked Florida State.

“I don’t think they’ve lost a series this year so to win a series from them is definitely good,” said Coach Danny Hall. “We’re playing really well right now. Devin was in trouble early but kind of pitched out of his trouble and then we were able to have a couple of big innings on them. It definitely was not as easy as it possibly looked today.”

The latest starter to get the job done was senior lefty Devin Stanton (3-1). Already one of the best personal-interest stories of the season, Stanton made it wins in back-to-back starts, throwing six scoreless innings and limiting the Seminoles, the ACC’s third-best hitting team and the conference’s highest scoring team to only five hits. He’ll carry a shutout streak of 12 innings into his next start, at Maryland.

“I had pretty good command of my fastball today, being able to nitpick on the corner. I didn’t leave many over the plate, which was helpful,” said Stanton. “When they did hit it hard, luckily they either hit it right at somebody or the defense made a good play. [Shortstop Connor] Justus turned a double play early, [centerfielder Daniel] Spingola] made a diving catch, it was big. At that point in time you’ve just got to compete and hope for the best.”

The lefty, who lowered his ERA to 2.58 (11 earned runs in 38 1/3 innings), did just that getting out of a first-and-second-none-out jam in the first. He struck out one of the ACC’s most dangerous hitters in left fielder D.J. Stewart, induced a fly out to left from the conference’s leading RBI man, first baseman John Nogowski then got out of trouble by retiring third baseman Jose Brizuela on a fly ball to center.

Stanton continued a trend that has seen Georgia Tech starters allow one earned run in 11 innings against the Seminoles, shutting them out through the first five innings in both games of the series and limiting them to a .175 batting average (7-for-40). On Friday night, Josh Heddinger didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning. Overall, Georgia Tech pitchers have allowed seven runs, while holding the `Noles to a .185 batting average (12-for-65)

That trend has seen Yellow Jackets starters allow a mere seven runs in 43 2/3 innings, a stingy 1.44 ERA, while allowing just 36 hits. Even more impressive is that of those seven runs, four of them came in one start — actually one inning — last Friday against Duke, when Heddinger surrendered four runs in the third and left after four. (It was the only inning the Blue Devils scored, as the Jackets came back to win, 7-4).

Take away that one outing, the only one in which GT’s starters have pitched fewer than five innings, and Jackets starters’ ERA in the streak falls to a microscopic 0.68 ERA (3 earned runs in 39 2/3 innings).

What the starters have done during the streak didn’t begin with any of the weekend starters, Heddinger, Stanton, or Matthew Grimes, but with freshman Ben Parr, who gave the Jackets, losers of four straight games, a big start when they needed it most.

In a midweek game against Georgia State on April 2, Parr, shut out the Panthers, on only five hits in a then-career-best 5 2/3 innings (he’d surpass that, throwing six innings of one-run, seven-hit ball the next week against Georgia Southern).

The roll Parr began has seen Jackets starters allow one run three times and no runs on four others. Stanton sees a friendly competition within the rotation.

“I think that’s kind of the phenomenon with all sports, is just momentum,” he said. “One guy kind of starts it and the next guy wants to do the same thing and follow it up. I think it’s the same thing for hitting. I think that’s kind of what’s happening with our lineup, too. One guy starts out hot the next guy comes up and gets another base hit. As a whole, pitching, starters, relievers, defense hitting, everything’s kind of rolling right now.”

Georgia Tech entered the weekend sixth in the ACC in ERA at 3.19, and 11th in opposing batting average at .251 but those numbers are sinking rapidly. Confidence is on the rise after putting the clamps on the Seminoles.

Adding to that confidence is the way the offense is getting starters the lead — Tech is now 11-5 when scoring first (6-0 in the streak) and 7-3 when scoring in the first inning (4-0 in the streak), something they’ve done in both games against Florida State — and how the bullpen is closing games down — Tech is 16-1 when leading after six, 18-0 when leading after seven, and 19-0 when leading after eight.

“Hopefully we’ll keep the ball rolling tomorrow,” Stanton said. “I know we’ve won the series but we’re going for a sweep now.”

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