June 24, 2019 | 72° F

Rutgers head coach lights fire beneath players for homestand

Photo by Yingjie Hu |

After a rocky start to the season, junior left-hander Mark McCoy eyes a rebound performance on the bump this weekend at Bainton Field against Minnesota.

Head coach Joe Litterio remembers the last time the Rutgers baseball team played Minnesota. That game makes the recent losing skid of the Scarlet Knights look like nothing.

“My sophomore year (1991), we played Minnesota at Miami. We used to do that back in the day, go to Miami for a week and play other teams,” Litterio said. “They beat us, 36-7, and I know that because it’s still burnt into my head. They had three guys on that team played in the pros and were a very good team that year. I don’t think they are like that now, or at least I hope they aren’t like that now. It was kind of crazy.”

Rutgers faces Minnesota for the first time in Big Ten Conference play, and like Litterio said postgame Wednesday, the Knights need to work harder. That started Thursday at practice when Rutgers had over 15 guys out on the field early taking extra reps.

Before practice even began, most of the hitters had already taken batting practice. The pitchers were working on pickoff moves and the rest worked on base running or fielding. That’s exactly what Litterio had envisioned for his players early in the season and blamed himself for not demanding more.

“It’s basically on me and the coaching staff, really,” Litterio said. “We have to work these guys harder and we have to teach them. We never had to do that in the past — guys would be out early and working hard, but it’s kind of tailed off in the years. I expect people to come out early. When I was here and I played, I was out here early every day. I don’t think the players think or know that’s available. That’s on me and that’s something that I need to address.”

Throwing this weekend for the Knights are junior left-handers Mark McCoy and Howie Brey on Friday and Saturday, with sophomore right-hander Gaby Rosa going Sunday.

McCoy has struggled recently in his last two starts against Purdue and Ohio State. The Wake Forest transfer is 0-2, allowing 15 hits and 16 runs — 10 earned — in 10 and one-third innings.

Having underperformed thus far in the season, McCoy feels he has to get back to the basics of mechanics on the mound.

“I haven’t had too much success these past two weeks,” McCoy said. “I just I kind of have to stay within myself on the mound and just pitch instead of throw. I don’t think I pitched too much, I feel like I was just out there throwing hoping for the best. I think sometimes I just beat myself — I’m my biggest enemy on the mound.”

Litterio continued the sentiments and feels that the mentality is McCoy’s biggest issue on the mound, although he doesn’t think his pitcher has done that poorly.

“(McCoy) has pitched better in his last couple of times out — I know his line doesn’t show it,” Litterio said. “I think the biggest thing with him is avoiding the big inning. When something goes wrong, he needs to focus even more and that’s something that we’ve talked about with him. Howie (Brey) and Gaby (Rosa) have to keep going out and do what they’ve been doing for us — that’s giving us a chance to win. If they do that, then we have a good chance.”

While issues on the mound have been somewhat prevalent, the lack of offensive production has been the main problem. Rutgers has only scored a total of four runs in its last three games.

But the biggest issue, according to Litterio, is the Knights' lack of timely hitting.

Sophomore centerfielder Mike Carter said what Rutgers focuses on in practice Thursday should help isolate the problems the Knights experience offensively.

“We are really working on our approach and having a better idea of knowing what the count is and how to hit during it,” Carter said. “We have to know the situation during the game. So, if there’s a runner on third and no outs with the infield in, we have to work on getting a pitch to elevate. We need to get line drives on pitches instead on week grounders. We have to pick up the intensity, but they say it’s a long season — but it goes quick. We need to step it up.”

For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.

Tyler Karalewich

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