Knights pressed to replace Kivlehan
Sitting in his office Tuesday morning, Rutgers head baseball coach Fred Hill needed few words to describe the only starter not to return from last season’s team.
“He’s a big loss obviously,” Hill said while perusing through his roster.
The veteran coach was referring to former Knight Pat Kivlehan, who in just one season with the team went from who Hill described as a potential asset as a pinch runner to Big East Player of the Year.
His story is well known. Former reserve on the Rutgers football team turned walk on to the baseball team turned Big East player of the Year.
“It came out of the blue,” Hill said of Kivlehan’s season. “When Pat asked to be given a tryout, what [did] we have to lose? He was a backup safety so we [knew] he could run, so he could have been a good pinch runner. Instead, he got to the point where he won the third base job and the rest speaks to itself.”
While it is easy for Hill to marvel at Kivlehan’s .392 batting average and 50 runs batted in, it is also something Hill cannot worry about anymore.
His job is to find how to replace the production from the now Seattle Mariner’s minor league prospect the Knights relied so much from.
Kivlehan led Rutgers in nearly all of its offensive categories, which included batting average, slugging percentage, RBI’s and home runs.
But a deeper look into last season’s stats indicate Kivlehan will be missed most in Big East play.
For instance, Kivlehan batted .402 in Big East action, while the rest of the Knights’ starting lineup batted an average of .288.
Kivlehan attributed for 58 percent of Rutgers’ home run total (10), and almost one fourth of its RBI with 23 percent (36).
He was first in hits and total bases in conference play and held a .765 slugging percentage in the Big East; .279 more than the Knights second highest hitter in that category in sophomore outfielder Brian O’Grady.
Kivlehan’s emergence did not start right away, and Hill will have more than a month before the Knights’ first Big East series against Louisville to pinpoint exactly how to replace the production.
Hill said while the power numbers may not be the same as last season, his roster has the capability of replacing Kivlehan’s batting average.
Senior catcher Jeff Melillo, junior second baseman Nick Favatella and outfielder Brian O’Grady all batted over .300, with Favatella’s .333 being the highest returning mark.
Favatella understands Kivlehan’s presence will be hard to replace on the offensive side.
But he is confident it will not be a problem. In fact, he thinks they could be better with the veterans Rutgers will return.
“I think collectively, we are going to see a lot of improvement from last year,” Favatella said. “I wouldn’t say that to Pat, but we’re not going to miss him too much.”
That might be an understatement considering Kivlehan’s impact, but junior third baseman Ross Costello will not have a hard time bringing a bigger presence on the defensive side, where Kivlehan was third on the team in errors on the diamond.
Despite what Kivlehan exploited, the Knights cannot worry about it anymore. It will be up to Costello, Favatella and the rest of the roster to keep that mindset.
“It’s going to be a big loss, but Costello has been working hard and he’s going to do a good job,” Favatella said. “I think we’ll be fine.”
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