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Rutgers uses alternative training methods during slump

<p>Senior first baseman Joe D'Annunzio said Rutgers underperformed in its weekend series against then-No. 9 Miami. The Knights return to action Friday at Old Dominion.</p>

Senior first baseman Joe D'Annunzio said Rutgers underperformed in its weekend series against then-No. 9 Miami. The Knights return to action Friday at Old Dominion.

The season has not gone the way that the Rutgers baseball team expected it to.

The Scarlet Knights dropped their opening series against then-No. 9 Miami, losing all four games by tallies of 5-2, 9-5, 9-3 and 25-4 in the finale — the most runs the Knights have allowed since they dropped a 24-6 game to Louisville in May 2010.

Head coach Joe Litterio found some sort of silver lining in the young season, but still expects more from his squad. After only four games, he reiterated that there is nowhere to go but up.

“Once you get a chance to sit back and think about the opening weekend, what really makes the weekend bad is the 25-run game on Sunday,” Litterio said. “You take that game away, and we are in tight ball games those three games and we didn’t play well. That’s the bright spot. We didn’t play well and we are still competing with the ninth-best team in the country.”

After a weekend that left most of the Knights thinking they committed more faults than accomplished good, Rutgers aimed to rebound in Knoxville against competitive SEC-program in Tennessee.

However, record-high snowfall decided the Knights would not get a chance at redemption on the season, at least not yet. 

Governor Bill Haslam declared a level-two state of emergency this past weekend with the death toll reaching 22 lives on Sunday afternoon, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

With travel to the Tennessee out of the question and the weekend series cancelled, Rutgers turned to alternative methods to improve. Without the same advantages of southern schools and other programs with baseball facilities, Rutgers has to put in work in creative ways.

That means more training in the Bubble, extra hitting sessions in the hidden batting cages at the Louis Brown Athletic Center and practices on a thawed-out Bainton Field, when possible — ways the Knights get more work in during the winter.

To junior left-hander Howie Brey, the best way to improve on what has been a rough start to the season is more specific to each position.

For the pitchers, it’s about the first pitch of an at-bat and keeping your command.

“We have to learn from our mistakes,” Brey said. “We had a tough weekend (against Miami), especially with not throwing strikes or making that first pitch a strike. We got behind guys. We really worked this week on throwing bullpens, getting those first pitches in as strikes and pounding the zone in our sessions this week at practice. That’s how you have to bounce back.”

With nine total errors on the weekend, Litterio feels the Knights left something to be desired on defense. Since the days of legendary former head coach Fred Hill, Rutgers has had the philosophy of playing sound defense.

With all the physical mistakes, Litterio eyes improving the little things when the Knights take the field.

“We need to work on the little things that we did wrong that hurt us in those ball games,” Litterio said. “We need to field routine ground balls. It wasn’t a standpoint of not knowing what to do or where to be. These problems are routine and we are going to make these errors when you go from a turf bubble to go play on grass and dirt for the first time. We had some routine balls that we will field during the regular season that we didn’t this time.”

With all the hardships in the early part of a season, senior first baseman Joe D’Annunzio said Rutgers has already moved past the series with the Hurricanes and believes the Knights have the rest of the season to improve.

“We did a lot of things as a team that we didn’t want to do, but we come into this week just working hard,” D’Annunzio said. “We are trying to get back to the little things and focusing up. We are trying to forget the Miami series and move forward. It's four games out of a 56-game schedule. We still got a lot of ball to play.”

For updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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