September 23, 2018 | ° F

Baseball: Spring-break schedule gives RU hitters time to improve

Rutgers head baseball coach Fred Hill is not pleased with the way the Scarlet Knights (3-9) have begun the season.

There were series against Miami and Georgia Tech that featured deeper lineups than the Knights possess, and the 0-6 combined record against those two programs was nothing out of the ordinary.

Dropping two of three games to William & Mary, a team Hill said Rutgers is better than, was not expected.

But it was not Rutgers’ pitching that did it in against the Tribe.

It was his offense, especially in late-game, scoring-position situations.

“We have to hit with men in scoring position. The only one who hit was Steve Zavala,” Hill said. “He had a good weekend — the rest of us, I don’t know.”

The senior rightfielder went 6-for-10 in three games over the weekend, driving in four runs en route to capturing a spot on the Big East Honor Roll in the process.

But the rest of the team collected five RBI in the same span, resulting in a .192 batting average with runners in scoring position.

“After coming off a strong week of practice, we were looking to win a series and it didn’t work out like it should have,” Zavala said. “It obviously wears on the team mentally when you prepare and the results don’t appear.”

Three players with 35 or more at-bats are batting under .250 through the Knights’ first four series. Senior first baseman Bill Hoermann, junior outfielder Brian O’Grady and junior shortstop Pat Sweeney are all below the mark.

Zavala said that through the years he has seen hitting arrive in spurts — the whole team has gone cold one moment and then suddenly caught fire the next.

For Rutgers’ sake, Zavala’s analysis would ideally occur sooner rather than later, with the team playing Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth over break before beginning its Big East season with a three-game series against Louisville.

The Spiders (12-3) have two hitters — Nick Poulos and Bret Williams — who are batting over .400 for the season.

Those stats, and Richmond’s record, come against a schedule that is below the competiveness of Rutgers’ early season opponents.

While the Knights cannot overlook any opponent, Zavala is adamant that the out-of-conference portion of the schedule will help the team improve for later Big East play.

“We want to [not only] win the series this weekend, but keep improving this weekend and next Tuesday and Wednesday against VCU (10-3) to be at full strength for Louisville, because in the end that’s all that really matters when we get in the Big East,” Zavala said. “We want to be playing our best baseball come Louisville [on March 22].”

In order to be playing its best against the Cardinals (12-2), Rutgers will need to start producing offensively.

According to Zavala, it is only a matter of time — though time until Big East play is running out.

“Hitting is a very contagious thing,” Zavala said. “Right now, a lot of our older guys, including myself, are not hitting the way we would like. It usually takes one or two people to step up and get hot and then the rest follow. I think no one needs to press and just keep playing our game.”

For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @Bradly_D. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow                @TargumSports.

By Bradly Derechailo

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