Offense backs youth on mound

With temperatures at first pitch hovering above 61 degrees, the Rutgers baseball team was happy yesterday to have their first game of the season at home.

Deviating from their weekend pitching staff, the Scarlet Knights (5-8) sent sophomore righthander Reed Shuttle to the mound for his first start of the season against Hofstra (5-7).

For a young pitching staff that has been up and down all season, Shuttle provided stability for the first midweek game of the season. The Lansdale, Pa., native won the first game of his career as the Knights topped Hofstra, 13-5.

When Shuttle came out in the top of the sixth, he allowed just four hits and one earned run in only his second career start, in line for the win with the score, 9-2.

Freshman righthander Gaby Rosa relieved Shuttle. Rosa threw three innings, allowing two hits and an earned run.

Head coach Joe Litterio was impressed with his young pitchers.

“Reed Shuttle did a great job. I don’t know if he has ever gone five innings for us. He showed me a lot today,” Litterio said. “It was good to see those young guys get their feet wet. But it’s different at home. They feel more comfortable and are able to hit their spots. They did a nice job.”

But for Shuttle, the job was made easier behind an offense that has hit strong all season.

Rutgers compiled 11 or more hits for the fifth consecutive outing this season, totaling 15 for the game.  

The bottom of the third inning saw Rutgers plate seven runners.

The Knights batted around after senior shortstop Pat Sweeney doubled to start the inning. Freshman outfielder Mike Carter singled to score Sweeney, and the floodgates opened.

Carter stole second base and senior first baseman Brian O’Grady doubled down the line keep the scoring going.

After junior outfielder Vinny Zarrillo drove in O’Grady, junior catcher Michael Zavala was hit by a pitch and freshman outfielder Tom Marcinczyk drew a walk. Then freshman third baseman Christian Campbell collected two RBI and advanced to second on a single.

After that, pitching with a 7-0 lead was easy for Shuttle.

“It’s definitely easier to pitch with a lead. The team put up a bunch of runs. It makes it more enjoyable,” Shuttle said. “You can definitely focus more on your pitching instead of worrying about other things.”

Rutgers was able to continue its impressive hitting after a strong weekend in Oklahoma.

Four Knights had multi-hit games, while Zavala scored three runs.

Sweeney went 4-for-4 at the plate, coming up a home run shy of hitting for the cycle. The Sparta, N.J., native had two runs and an RBI batting ninth.

Sweeney feels he has benefitted from having the same attitude all season at the plate.

“I just feel real comfortable at the plate right now, so it’s really important to keep the same approach that I’ve had going on. I’m just real confident at the plate,” Sweeney said. “We’re going to hit the ball. We have a lot of experience on offense here, so guys are going to put up runs and hit the cover off the ball.”

Litterio reiterated the same sentiments about the Knights’ hitting. He offered optimism for improvement in all phases of the game.

“I’m happy with the way the guys were aggressive at the plate and on the bases,” Litterio said. “I think we have an offensive team this year, and it’s only a matter of time before we get the pen working and the starting pitching to a point where we are happy with it. When we do that — we already can put up runs — so we can win some ball games doing it.”

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