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Offense eyes improvement indoors

When one thinks about baseball, several things come to mind.

Most often, when they look past the bats and balls, they closely associate their idea of baseball with the diamond that teams play on.

Even more strictly, they associate baseball with the spring weather and the dirt on the playing field.

Early on in the season, the Rutgers baseball team has no trace of practicing outside, no dirt on its cleats quite yet and no farmer’s tan associated with training outside for long hours of the day.

Scarlet Knights practices model those of the basketball team or the track team with the time spent inside the Louis Brown Athletic Center or the Bubble indoor training facility.

Head coach Joe Litterio remembers this being one of the worst winters since he has been involved with Rutgers. In prior years, the Knights were less restricted to the indoors.

“This has been one of the worst and toughest winters, since probably the late 70s where this much snow stayed on the ground for so long,” Litterio said. “It’s been a little bit more difficult, because this time of the year we are usually outside at least one or two days at least to get some work in. But if we do the right things, we can get what we need to get accomplished indoors.”

While being relegated to the RAC, the Knights are able to work on their hitting and offensive production.

The RAC offers batting cages that can better put the Rutgers hitters in an environment to succeed.

While it may seem a disadvantage for the Knights to have to hit indoors, it actually prepares them better for hitting outdoors, according to senior first baseman Brian O’Grady.

“We have some good hitters on this team, up and down the lineup. Once you get outside, after hitting in the cages, it makes it that much easier to pick up the ball,” O’Grady said. “I think if you can hit, you can hit. Inside, or outside, it doesn’t really matter. We’ve got the guys who can do that.”

It is hard to argue with the theory.

Rutgers outhit Jacksonville this past weekend, 23-14, and outscored the Dolphins, 16-4. In six games this season, the Knights have averaged eight hits per contest.

O’Grady is second on the team in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage with respective averages of .409/.636/.440.

Rutgers has only had the chance to touch real grass when it traveled down to Florida for its first two weekend series of the season.

For the best possible replication of fielding, the Knights practice inside the Bubble.

“With being inside, we aren’t getting a lot of fly ball work,” Litterio said. “Inside the Bubble, we are able to get some fly ball work, but the wind and the sun, you can’t get that inside the Bubble.”

While training during the season is valuable, the practice in the offseason is vital to ensure production for the regular season, especially when searching for practice time early in the season.

Every Knight has his own technique during the offseason that best serves him for the regular season, according to senior second baseman Nick Favatella.

“Each guy has their own specific routine that they have gotten used to. For me, it’s a lot of tee work over the winter to maintain the fundamentals,” Favatella said. “To maintain the fundamentals is important to help when you are coming back to see live pitching. It’s a lot of repetition and staying strong in the weight room.”

It is still hard to have to shift between practicing indoors and playing outdoors and then back to the confines of the Bubble.

That scenario has been played out for Rutgers this season and has been one of the hardest adjustments for Litterio.

“We’re just doing everything we can to stay game ready. We have been outside twice already playing games,” Litterio said. “It’s tough when you have to come back to the Northeast and go back inside. It’s one of the things, for me, was most difficult. Being outside, and being able to play, we start to get a feel for it. Then have to go back inside and work on the little things again.”

For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow Tyler Karalewich on Twitter @TylerKaralewich. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.