Virginia had one of, if not, the best closer in the game last year. Nick Howard was dominant night in and night out on his way to setting the single season ACC saves record at 20. Unfortunately, for UVa fans, Nick was drafted in the first round last year by the Cincinnati Reds. Combine that with the losses of Whit Mayberry and Artie Lewicki to old age, and Coach O'Connor will have a lot of innings to fill.
However, the news is not all bad for the Cavaliers on the mound. They return two All-Americans weekend starters in Brandon Waddell and Nathan Kirby. They also have an All-American talent in Connor Jones who will likely join Waddell and Kirby in the rotation.
Waddell returns for his third year with two years of weekend experience under his belt. Last season he led the Cavaliers in wins with 10 and amassed a 2.45 ERA over 18 games started. Combine that with his .236 batting average against, and you've got the recipe for a Pre-Season All-American (2nd Team Louisville Slugger and NCBWA & 3rd Team Perfect Game).
After a somewhat disappointing first year, Kirby returns as one of the most highly touted collegiate pitchers in the country. We all certainly remember his melt down against Vanderbilt in Omaha, but the season Nathan put together before that was one of the best a Cavaliers pitcher has ever had going 9-3 with a 2.06 ERA and a no-hitter. He'll undoubtedly face off against every other opponent's ace, which could lead to a lower win total, but if he can be as good as he was last year, the Hoos will be just fine on Friday.
The final starter on the weekend rotation was somewhat up in the air coming into the season, but it looks like it will be 2nd year Connor Jones. Jones came in to last year as a heralded recruit, and even though his stats weren't the stuff of legend, he still turned in a fine year for a 1st year. This year he'll move to a starting role which he is probably more comfortable with. I expect this could lead to even better stats than Connor put up last year.
Replacing Howard at the back end of staff will be 3rd year Josh Sborz. Sborz has racked up 47 appearances over his first two years with the program, including 17 last year with 15 of those being starts. He'll move back to the pen, where he racked up appearances his first year, and take over one of the most important roles on the UVa staff. Just think about the names who have come before Sborz: Lambert, Schwimer, Arico, Thompson, Kline, (apparently Kyle Crockett) and Howard. That's an impressive list. To give yourself less worry that Sborz is up to the task, look at his 1st year stats. In his 30 appearances, he had a 1.98 ERA and a WHIP lower than 1.00. He'll be fine.
Rounding out the pen with Sborz will likely be 3rd year David Rosenberger. Unfortunately, Rosenberger and Sborz won't be enough, so we have to venture guesses as to what underclassmen will be joining them. It appears those will likely be 1st years Derek Casey, out of Hanover, VA, Tommy Doyle, from Vienna, VA, and Bennett Sousa, from North Palm Beach, FL.
The weekday starters will likely be derived from who did not pitch the previous weekend, but I expect Alex Bettinger and redshirt-1st year Jack Roberts to ensure the Cavaliers win their mid-week games.
The pitching staff is certainly where the Cavaliers' strength will be in 2015. With so much talent and experience lost on the other side, the Hoos will have to ride the arms of their experienced and proven pitchers. We've come to expect a lot from UVa pitchers and this year doesn't appear to be any different.