Feb. 24, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Next Game: Today vs. Kennesaw State at Russ Chandler Stadium. First Pitch, 4:00 p.m.
It’s never too early in the season to send a message.
Georgia Tech’s bullpen is doing just that. That message is “Stop!”
The unit has come at opponents in waves from both sides, throwing strikes in getting batters out.
“We have a lot of guys capable of throwing,” said head coach Danny Hall. “We can put different guys in the game. We have some lefties we can match up with a little bit. So it’s good. That depth is going to help us as we go forward.”
The Jackets took a giant leap forward over the weekend at Russ Chandler Stadium, going from two games under .500 to one game by sweeping UNC Greensboro. They completed the sweep Sunday, blasting the Spartans, 12-3. The Jackets allowed six runs the entire series, in which they never trailed and didn’t allowed UNCG to bat with a chance to tie in the final three innings of any game.
The bullpen took care of its business, throwing shutout ball over nine of its 11 2/3 innings, and allowing a total of four earned runs on six hits, with five walks against seven strikeouts. Tech pitchers didn’t allow a walk Sunday and gave up only two over the series’ final 20 1/3 innings.
Interestingly, no pitcher was used more than once, as Hall brought in 10 different pitchers, with only two going longer than one inning — Dusty Isaacs, who threw three shutout innings on Saturday, and Matt Grimes, who went two innings on Sunday.
“I know that’s one of the thing that [Assistant Coach] Jay Howell has tried to convince our guys of and one of the things he’s working very hard with our staff and in recruiting,” said Hall. “That is developing a staff, have a staff that is capable of getting those 27 outs every time we play.”
That staff has a mix of seniors and freshmen and is working well with everyone having a role. They’ve held opponents to a .230 batting average (23-for-100), while pitching to a 2.70 ERA (nine earned runs in 30 innings). Only twice have Tech relievers allowed more than one run in an appearance — the second of those came Friday night, with a seven-run cushion — and in only one game has more than one reliever been scored upon.
Isaacs has led the way.
The senior right-hander has been almost unhittable. He’s yet to surrender a run in 6 2/3 innings of work over three appearances. He’s allowed only five base runners while holding opposing hitters to a .143 batting average. He fired three shutout, one-hit frames on Saturday in helping preserve Cole Pitts’ shutout.
“It’s something I’m starting to get comfortable with and we’ve got a pretty good plan,” said the versatile Isaacs, who started 16 of his 17 appearances last season. “I have a pretty good idea of when I’m going to throw so I’ll be able to get some pretty good work in in between, whether it be workouts or throwing. I don’t know how it will be going forward but as long as I’m healthy and able to throw I hope I’m out there.”
Senior Alex Cruz, like Isaacs, has been a mystery to opposing hitters. He’s also yet to allow a run of any kind, giving up only five hits in six innings, while striking out 10 hitters. He’s yet to allow a walk and is limiting batters to a .250 average. Cruz has played a vital leadership role as part of the senior class, which also includes righties Matt Grimes, Jonathan Roberts, and DeAndre Smelter and lefty specialist Devin Stanton.
The seniors have provided plenty of leadership by example for the slew of talented freshmen, which includes righties Zac Ryan, Matt Phillips, Matthew Gorst, and Ben Schneiderjans and lefties Tanner Shelton and Ben Parr.
“We’re kind of a senior-heavy group in the bullpen,” said Cruz. “It kind of reflects on the leadership that we’ve had with some of those younger guys. We’re Just kind of walking them through stuff. To lead by example is what most of the seniors want to do. Dusty is doing a great job, I’m trying to do my best to kind of set the tone and show some of these younger guys how to do things.”
So far the freshmen have more than pulled their weight. Over the weekend, Phillips and Schneiderjans threw scoreless frames on Friday to close out the 7-3 win, then, on Saturday, Shelton finished the 7-0 whitewash.
With Jackets starters being held to around an 80-pitch pitch count early in the season, the door has been opened and there have been plenty of eager volunteers kicking that door in.
But not all of them have been freshmen.
Two of the feel-good stories of the early season are Grimes, the midweek starter in 2012 until he got hurt, and Stanton. The pair, who pitched back-to-back on Sunday, both are making their way back from Tommy John Surgery and are welcome additions as they fortify the pen.
“Both those guys have worked really hard to get back,” said Isaacs. “I know they love being out there, they’re both really good competitors. I think the best is yet to come for both those guys. I’m going to be real excited to see how it works out in three or four weeks.”
“It’s huge having them,” agreed Cruz. “Both of those guys can do a lot of great things and can make a lot of things happen out on the field. I can’t even stress how much big it is.”
Everyone is coming up big for the Jackets, who showed this weekend that they can win regardless of who is out there and who is not — Cruz didn’t pitch all weekend and Isaacs only pitched Saturday.
“I think anyone that goes in there at any time, we have faith in,” said Isaacs. “Everyone has proven something at some point, so anyone [Coach Hall] calls on we feel can get the job done.”
For now, it’s the more the merrier.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that are capable,” said Hall. “They’ve just got to be ready each day and when they get the chance go in and throw strikes. If we can do that we have a chance to win a lot of games.”
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