Rutgers hosts Big Ten foe Purdue in weekend series at Bainton Field
Still coming down from its 28-run barrage against Lafayette earlier in the week, the Rutgers baseball team is set to host Purdue for a three-game weekend series at Bainton Field.
Gearing up for this weekend, the Scarlet Knights (11-18, 0-3) are still relishing their record setting performance — and for good reason. For the first time in its 146 years of existence, Rutgers put up 28 runs in a game — with a little help from Mother Nature.
“It was 85 degrees and the wind was blowing out so we had a lot of factors helping us,” said head coach Joe Litterio. “But they still did it and I think that’s something that builds a little confidence in each hitter now to where they know their strengths and go out and hopefully continue to build on them.”
Before that offensive explosion, the Knights had lost four in a row and scored a total of 5 runs in the four games.
Other than a weekend series at Minnesota getting cancelled — giving Rutgers a bit of a breather — Litterio and his staff came together and made some adjustments to their approach.
“As a coaching staff we sat down and kind of broke the hitters up into different categories and worked on a different approach,” Litterio said. “Instead of having one approach for every hitter, we kind of organized them a little bit better and had different approaches for each guy. It just so happened that we went out (Tuesday) and swung the bats real well.”
Baseball is a long season, and players and coaches have to always be ready and willing to tinker with some stuff. What worked at the beginning of the season may not be working in the middle of the season, so teams have to be able to change things up and adjust for the sake of the ball club.
Obviously no one expects the Knights to now average 28 runs a game — that’s why records exist — but games like the one Rutgers is coming off of can help build confidence for a team, especially one that was struggling to score up to that point. It gives hitters the assurance that they are quality batters and can perform on a regular basis.
“I think it lets them understand too that you’re never out of a college baseball game,” Litterio said. “Sometimes you might go down 3-1, 5-1, but we have the offensive power to be able to come back. It shows them that we’re able to put up runs like that at any given time. Hopefully that’s a little bit of a confidence booster where even if we’re down 5-1 in a game, we know we can score runs as long as we continue to grind out at bats and get on base.”
One player who has had confidence for a better part of three weeks now is sophomore left fielder Mike Martinez. After not landing the starting left field spot at the beginning of the season, Martinez kept working, made some adjustments and it’s proving to pay dividends.
Now the starting left fielder, Martinez is batting .341 with three doubles, one triple, two homers, 10 runs batted in (RBI) and is 4-for-5 in stolen base attempts.
“Now that I’ve been getting more at-bats, I’m starting to get my timing and rhythm down at the plate,” he said. “I’ve always kept my head down and kept working regardless of the situation but it gives you a special kind of feeling when you see it translate on the field.”
Drowned out in all of this though, is the fact that the Knights made two more errors on Tuesday, and have now made 52 errors in 29 games — only seven errors away from the 2016 total.
Sophomore right hander Serafino Brito (1-6, 5.09 ERA), who will take the ball on Saturday, has been an early victim of the errors — giving up 31 runs so far, but only 23 of them earned.
When asked if his approach toward the hitters changes while on the mound because of the errors, he said it did not.
“My approach for the batters stays the same regardless of the errors behind me,” he said. “It’s baseball, errors are going to happen on the field, it’s my job to get batters out.”
Looking ahead for this weekend, in addition to Brito, senior Gaby Rosa (3-2, 5.01 ERA) will start on Friday with junior John O’Reilly (2-5, 5.64 ERA) taking the ball on Easter Sunday.
Friday’s game will only be Rutgers’ fourth in-conference game this season. Despite already being at the midway point of the season, the Knights have a lot of games left against the rest of the Big Ten and have the power to control where they finish this season.
As for Purdue, Litterio said he sees a lot of similarities between his team and the Boilermakers (17-15, 5-4).
“They’re playing solid baseball right now and they’re very confident coming into this series,” he said. “After scouting them I think we’re very similar as a team. Both teams run a little bit, both teams pitch a little bit so I think it’s going to be a good series and a good test for us to get back on the right track, especially in conference. It’s only going to be our fourth game in conference, so even though we’re halfway through the season, for us it’s only game four in conference.”
So although Tuesday’s game was one for the record books, Rutgers knows it has a lot of work left to be done. It starts this weekend.
“It’s a good weekend for us to get on the right track and put everything together,” Litterio said.
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