Rutgers copes with injuries to veterans
As if losing its two best hitters —an MLB prospect included — was not enough of a setback, the Rutgers baseball team has to play through the season with two pieces already injured.
Senior first baseman Russ Hopkins and junior pitcher Nathaniel Roe are out for the season, but head coach Fred Hill said the team’s goal remains the same — win the conference.
The Scarlet Knights (20-30 last season) have to accomplish the goal with a depleted lineup — Rutgers is without Hopkins and graduates D.J. Anderson and Michael Lang.
The offense centered on Lang, who led Rutgers starters in batting average (.344), on-base percentage (.445) and slugging percentage (.490). Lang is off to pursue a professional baseball career. He and Anderson — second on the team last year with 25 RBI — gave the reins to Hopkins.
Without Anderson, Hopkins and Lang, Hill is left looking for answers.
“How’s the lineup going to be? I’m not 100 percent sure,” he said. “It’s a little different than what it was last year. We had some veterans who played quite a bit.”
Rutgers now searches for both production and leadership for its offense. A lot of it comes from underclassmen, including sophomore infielder Nick Favatella.
Favatella returns as the team’s leader in OPS from last season (.745). He also drew 20 walks, which put him second behind Lang. But Favatella anticipates a need for his leadership without Hopkins in only his second season.
“It’s a big loss, both performance-wise on the field and emotionally,” Favatella said of Hopkins. “He was one of our captains and leaders on the team, but we’re all going to try to pitch in and help make up for that.”
The Knights already have an answer for the absence of Roe. That is Rob Corsi.
Roe was the third pitcher in the Knights’ rotation last year while Corsi served as a relief pitcher. But No. 1 starter Tyler Gebler already gave a nod of confidence to the junior lefthander.
“[Roe] had a good year last year, so that’s definitely a loss,” Gebler said. “But Corsi was our [pitching] MVP last year, so I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat without him.”
Corsi pitched 40 innings in 23 appearances out of the bullpen last season, compared to Roe’s 67 2/3. The Knights hope he can take his 1.58 ERA and translate it to success as a starter.
Corsi’s frequent and lengthy use out of the bullpen should ease his transition, said Gebler, who made the reliever-to-starter transition last year with classmate Rob Smorol.
“We’re pretty confident,” Gebler said. “Smorol and I got a year of experience last year and even Corsi got a lot of time, so I think our starting pitching’s pretty good.”
With alterations to both the offense and the pitching staff, Hill is grateful for the amount of time to experiment in non-conference play, beginning Friday in Miami.
“We have to get a couple games under our belt before we say, ‘Here’s our set lineup.’ That’s why we enjoy going south to teams like Miami,” Hill said. “You find out whether you can play or not.”
It will be the first step toward the high hopes to win the Big East for Hill and the Knights.