Rutgers returns pitching stability, youth on offense
Sitting with Director of Baseball Operations Glen Gardner before the Rutgers baseball team took to practice inside the indoor practice bubble outside of High Point Solutions Stadium, the man affectionately known as “Beef” had plenty of good things to say in his 15 minutes of downtime.
In his 25 years at Rutgers — his first 18 as a hitting coach under former head coach Fred Hill and the last seven in his current role — Beef admits to rarely being wrong.
He predicts something special this season — the Scarlet Knights’ first in the Big Ten — and sees the team doing some things they haven’t done in recent history. While Gardner admits he could be wrong, his confidence and conviction strengthen his resolve.
Looking at the crop of talent returning and coming into the program, it is hard to disagree with someone who has been around Rutgers baseball for so long.
The Knights have a surplus of pitchers who gained valuable experience last season. Rutgers returns two weekend aces from a season ago in junior left-hander Howie Brey and sophomore right-hander Gaby Rosa.
With the transfer of junior left-hander Mark McCoy of Wake Forest to fit in the rotation, head coach Joe Litterio feels the rotation and bullpen will be a strength this year, where last year it struggled at times.
“This year is different on the mound,” Litterio said. “Last year … we’re thinking ‘What do we have?’ This year we know what we have. It’s more about who is going to step up and take the spots. Right now, the front-runners are Howie on Friday, Mark McCoy on Saturday and probably Gaby Rosa on Sunday. Kyle Driscoll and Kevin Baxter will both be guys who will fight for some time. We have plenty of guys who can do it — it’s gonna be who does it.”
With Brey having another year of experience under his belt and a season as the team’s ace, he is confident moving forward.
The newly elected team captain admitted that some of the mistakes he made early in his career rounded them out and expects limited problems on the mound.
“The experience will be really important,” Brey said. “I know last year, in my first few games, I was a little shaky coming in because I didn’t know how to react if I was walking a few guys or getting hit around a little bit. But now, I have a lot of experience, and I feel I can come out there and throw my game.”
While the depth in the rotation and pen leaves optimism for the Knights, there were some vital losses on the field and in the lineup
With the likes of former Knights Nick Favatella, Brian O’Grady, Lou Clemente and Pat Sweeney graduating, Rutgers loses the second to fifth spot in its lineup to graduation.
While the Knights lose some top bats, they return six players who saw significant starting time in the lineup, including senior outfielder Vinny Zarrillo and sophomore shortstop Christian Campbell.
“That’s the big question,” Litterio said of losing four starters. “[The offense] is where I think we are going to need to step up the most. Defensively, I think we will be okay — [we’ve] got guys in the right place and who can field the position. I think when you take out number two, three, sometimes four and fifth spot in the lineup, that’s a big spot 1-5. But I think we have the guys who could do it.”
Zarrillo, also named a team captain along with Brey and junior infielder John Jennings, thinks Rutgers can make up for it despite the challenges losing four productive bats in the lineup presents.
“It’s going to be really difficult,” Zarrillo said. “Those guys had great years, but I think we are going to have guys step up for us and fill those roles pretty well. I think we have pretty good cohesion on the team, and we are all motivated to one goal and that’s winning.”
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