July 19, 2018 | ° F

RU visits struggling Leopards

Photo by Tian Li |

Senior catcher Jeff Melillo, along with the rest of Rutgers’ lineup, will be called upon to compensate for the team’s struggles on the mound during midweek games. Melillo is batting .283 this season with 17 RBI.

The Rutgers baseball team has been here before.

After the Scarlet Knights (16-16, 8-4) took two of three March 22-23 against then-No. 4 Louisville, they responded with a 9-3 loss to Rider.

They then won six of nine before suffering a last inning loss of 15-14 at the hands of Fordham, who was 12-19 before the win.

After Sunday’s 7-2 win against Cincinnati — a victory that solidified Rutgers’ third Big East series win — head coach Fred Hill was optimistic about his team’s near future.

Photo: Tian Li

Junior second baseman Nick Favatella hit 2-for-3 Sunday against Cincinnati in Rutgers’ 7-2 win against the Bearcats.

“We’re in pretty good shape as far as the playoffs go,” Hill said. “If we can keep winning these series, we’ll be in good shape.”

Though the results of Rutgers’ midweek games have no bearing on its Big East playoff push, the Knights would still like to see positive results against the teams that they are more talented than.

“We have to learn to flip the switch,” said senior righthander Charlie Law after Sunday’s win. “During Big East play, we’re getting nice weather, and we’re playing real well as a team — it’s just a matter of getting our heads right for these midweek games and knowing they are just as important as [Big East] games.”

Rutgers will get another opportunity today when they travel to Easton, Pa., to play against Lafayette and tomorrow when it hosts Monmouth.

The Leopards (6-30) lost their last seven games and have dropped 10 of their last 11.

Less talented opponents have been on Rutgers’ midweek schedule before, and it has not responded as well as it would like against conference opponents.

Though the Knights knocked in 14 runs against Fordham last Tuesday, they allowed 15 in the loss.

Slater McCue started against the Rams, but he lasted just one and a third for Rutgers. The junior righthander allowed five earned runs on three hits with three walks against Fordham, prompting Hill to pull McCue in favor of senior righthander Pat O’Leary.

In four starts this season, McCue has gone 0-1 with a 10.80 ERA — which may be a reason why Hill went in a different direction for today’s game.

In light of McCue’s ineffectiveness during his past two starts, Hill elected to start freshman righthander Reed Shuttle today against the Cougars.

Shuttle will be the first freshman to start a game for Rutgers since 2010, when Jerry Elsing started. The rookie has appeared in five games thus far and owns a 6.43 ERA with seven strikeouts and five earned runs.

Whoever goes on the mound for Rutgers, junior second baseman Nick Favatella knows what midweek victories can do in terms of preparation for weekend Big East action.

“It’s huge,” Favatella said. “Momentum in baseball is everything. We need to keep our energy high in these two games, so we can keep it rolling into next time.”

That will begin today, and a positive outcome will only result if Rutgers can find consistency from its midweek pitching.

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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