September 23, 2019 | 79° F

Reliever Corsi fills out starting staff for Hill

Photo by The Daily Targum |

Junior lefthander Rob Smorol struck out a team-high 66 batters last season, his first as a starter under head coach Fred Hill. Smorol and classmate Tyler Gebler spent their freshman seasons in the bullpen, where junior lefthander Rob Corsi called home a season ago.?All three are starters this season for the Knights.

A pitching staff is bound to encounter its ups and downs when a head coach puts three former relief pitchers at the top of its starting rotation.

Luckily for the Rutgers baseball team, that problem is a thing of the past.

Starting pitchers Tyler Gebler and Rob Smorol begin their junior seasons in the same way they did as sophomores — asked by head coach Fred Hill to lead the rotation. But this season, they do so with rotational experience.

“If you can’t pitch, you’re going to have a hard time winning,” Hill said. “Our top … pitchers have had experience and we’re very excited about them. We’re very high on them.”

Smorol exceeded expectations as a starter with a 4.10 earned run average and a team-leading 66 strikeouts. Gebler did the same with a 3.22 ERA in his team-leading 103.1 innings.

“It was a whole different playing field being a starter in the college game than being in the bullpen,” Smorol said. “It took me four or five games to get adjusted to that. This year, I’m all set and I know what I’m doing.”

Junior Nathaniel Roe needed to make the same transition last year out of the bullpen. Roe started 11 times for the Scarlet Knights a season ago, but is already out for the season because of injury.

The Knights return the rest of their pitchers from last year, so Roe’s absence does not compare to a year ago when Rutgers purged its rotation.

“Everybody’s a year older. We return everybody besides Nate Roe,” Smorol said. “Our starters are juniors now. Two of our starters — me and Gebler — have been starting already.”

Rutgers’ answer for Roe’s absence is junior lefthander Rob Corsi, who makes the same transition as Gebler, Smorol and Roe.

Corsi was a leader in the Knights’ bullpen last season with a 1.58 ERA in 23 appearances and a team-low .233 opposing batting average.

Despite previous success, an easy transition to the rotation is not a corollary. Gebler finished his bullpen year with a steady 1.75 ERA, but Smorol did not have it so easy.

The righthander completed his freshman year with a 4.05 ERA and 28 walks compared to 25 strikeouts. But he still earned his way into this year’s rotation because of starting success.

With that circumstance in mind, junior closer Jerry Elsing is not worried about the state of the pitching staff with one of his fellow relievers on the verge of starting.

“We’re an older group, a bunch of juniors, a couple seniors,” the 6-foot-4 Elsing said. “Our bullpen is really strong.”

The Knights begin the season Friday with a road trip south that starts at Miami (Fla.).

Rutgers already knows its lineup will be without its two leading hitters from last season. It lost outfielder Michael Lang and third baseman/designated hitter D.J. Anderson to graduation.

Smorol is confident in his run support this season, but he also knows the Knights could be a pitching-centric team.

“I think our hitting has improved a lot, but of course our pitching will be great,” Smorol said.

The Knights’ hitting lineup will likely experience instant change like the starting rotation did last season. But with their pitching in 2011, they know it is not a problem.

By Josh Bakan

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