Lineup gives Hill veteran presences
With 22 players returning for the Rutgers baseball team, one would believe all of the questions for this season would be answered for head coach Fred Hill.
But thanks to Pat Kivlehan’s presence last season for the Scarlet Knights, Hill has the job of finding out how to replace the former third baseman’s production.
Kivlehan, who is now in the Seattle Mariners farm system, batted .392 last season with 14 home runs and 50 runs batted in.
Hill believes some aspects of his game can be evenly distributed, but not everything can be easily replaced.
“Our offense will be spread out throughout the lineup,” Hill said. “I think we can pick it up. I don’t think we can pick it up power-wise, but average-wise and hitting in certain situations, I think we’ll be alright.”
While the offensive production will not be placed on one player, Kivlehan’s defensive responsibilities fall on Ross Costello. The junior saw time in the early parts of last season before Kivlehan took over full-time. The Egg Harbor Township, N.J., native batted .292 in 26 games last season.
But Hill is more worried about bringing runners in, and Costello’s 10 RBI last season will obviously have to be higher for the Knights, as he will have more attempts to drive runners in.
The challenge has not stopped Hill from being optimistic.
“We’ve got some experience,” he said. “We’re swinging that bat pretty well and playing pretty good defense.”
The experience includes the middle of the diamond, where junior second baseman Nick Favatella and junior shortstop Pat Sweeney will provide a defensive presence for the Knights.
Favatella was also one of Rutgers’ offensive leaders last season with a .333 average.
One other player Hill wants to see production from is senior catcher Jeff Melillo, who last season represented the Knights on the All-Big East first team.
“He is a very good receiver,” Hill said. “He’s a potential pro prospect and the pro scouts are interested in him. He has some experience back there and is bigger and stronger than he’s ever been and throwing better than he ever has. We’re looking for him to do a good job back there.”
While Melillo brings a .311 average from last season, Hill understands his main responsibility is on running his pitching staff.
There are plenty of question marks surrounding the group.
Hill said that seniors Rob Smorol and Tyler Gebler will be his one and two weekend starters, respectively, but is unsure of the third starter.
Hill also said Rutgers third starter for now is senior righthander Charlie Law, but he is coming off of an injury. Seniors Rob Corsi and Nathaniel Roe will also vie for the spot in the early portion of the season.
The focus remains on Law for now, and Hill is not as sure as he would want to be.
“It’s a question mark right now,” Hill said of Law, “but he has been throwing really well so we’re kind of high on him.”
The Knights will see if these questions will be answered Friday, when Rutgers begins its season with a three-game series at Miami (Fla.).
For now, Hill can only be glad to escape the weather that has allowed the Knights to practice just twice outside in the preseason.
“The one drawback is that we haven’t been outside very much,” Hill said. “It’s going to be different, plus the lights and everything. But it’s a good opener.”
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