For years, pitching has been a hallmark of Virginia Cavaliers baseball teams, ranking among the best in the nation in runs surrendered, ERA, opposing batting average, and other metrics. But in recent years, it seems the offense has become the strength with the pitching staff being mired in inconsistency in either the rotation or the bullpen. Two seasons ago, Virginia starters performed well only to see late game leads squandered by the bullpen. Then last season Alec Bettinger and Tommy Doyle were rock solid, if the starters could only get to them.
This season appears to shift back to the rotation, but even then, pitching doesn’t figure to be the strength of this team. However, Karl Kuhn’s pitchers have often surprised us with their offseason development and this year there are plenty of candidates.
Leading the way among Virginia’s starters will be junior Daniel Lynch. The left hander out of Henrico battled against consistency last season posting an 7-5 record in 14 starts and a 5.00 ERA. But a successful summer in the Cape Cod League has Lynch primed for a breakout junior season. Filling in to the Saturday starting role is likely going to be Derek Casey. Casey is Virginia’s most solid starter returning from last season after going 5-2 with a 3.79 ERA in 14 games started. The senior out of Midlothian was a 22nd round draft pick by the St. Louis Cardinals out of high school and with another solid campaign for the Cavaliers, should be able to improve on that come June. The final starter is a bit more of a question mark with Evan Sperling looking to get first crack at the job. Sperling was 3-3 in ten starts a season ago. His ERA was high at 7.51 but batters only hit .204 against him. Walks were an issue, but with another year in the system, he should be able to work through that.
Bennett Sousa leads the most likely mid-week starters. Sousa pitched mostly out of the bullpen last season, actually leading the Hoos in appearance with 24. He posted a 3-0 record with a 4.09 ERA. He can be unhittable at times posting a 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and a .210 batting average against but walks can also be his undoing. A wild card in all of this is Noah Murdock. The second-year was filthy at times last season en route to a selection to the All-All Freshman team. He went 3-1 in seven starts with a 3.32 ERA before an injury ended his season. Whether or not he’s ready to go this season is still up in the air, but if he is healthy, he could provide a high upside weekend option for the Cavaliers.
The departures of Doyle and Bettinger leave a gaping hole in this year’s bullpen. Wins were all but a certainty last season if the Hoos could get a lead into the seventh inning. This season, the back end of the pen looks to be anchored by Chesdin Harrington. The righty was effective last season holding opposing hitters to just a .160 batting average and he had a 2.41 ERA in 18 appearances. Whether he can step right in and be and effective closer is yet to be seen, but he certainly has the stuff to do it. Leading up to Harrington will most likely be Bobby Nicholson. The Charlottesville native is getting some 2019 draft buzz after 10 appearances a season ago in mostly midweek duty. He’ll have big shoes to fill, as Bettinger was a rock who could either face just one batter, or, if a starter gets in early trouble, go five plus. Nicholson is talented, but will have to gain experience in a hurry.
Others to watch in the bullpen are all first years. Highlighting the group is lefty Andrew Abbott. Last season’s Gatorade Virginia Player of the Year was selected in the 36th round of the MLB Draft by the Yankees and could come in and have an immediate impact. Joining him getting innings early could be Griff McGarry. McGarry comes to Charlottesville by way of California and was drafted in the 31st round of the MLB Draft by the Rangers last June. Finally keep an eye on what the coaches do with Devin Ortiz. Ortiz is two-way player who also plays infield. The coaches have never shied away from playing talented freshman in whatever role they see fit, even it’s both innings on the hill and time around the diamond.
Virginia kicks off its season Friday night at 6:30 PM when they travel to Orlando and take on the University of Central Florida. Then Saturday, they’ll square off against Samford with a 1 PM first pitch before they round out the weekend on Sunday against Rice. That game will begin at 10:00 AM.