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Rutgers seeks return to basics of baseball

<p>Head coach Joe Litterio implores his team to take advantage of their conference bye this week to gain momentum for their next Big Ten series. The Knights take on Wagner, St. Peter's and Seton Hall this week in the absence of a Big Ten opponent.</p>

Head coach Joe Litterio implores his team to take advantage of their conference bye this week to gain momentum for their next Big Ten series. The Knights take on Wagner, St. Peter's and Seton Hall this week in the absence of a Big Ten opponent.

The Rutgers baseball team did not accomplish many of the things that it wanted to heading into its Big Ten series against Michigan State this past weekend.

After being swept by the Spartans 10-4, 15-7 and 6-2, the Scarlet Knights could not find much to chew on in terms of a silver lining. Rutgers was outhit, outscored and committed more errors than the Spartans did in each game.

The Knights (12-26-1, 5-10) play Wagner (16-14-1) on Tuesday and St. Peters (6-24-1) on Wednesday, before following up with a home-and-away series against Seton Hall (18-15) over the weekend.

With a down series against Michigan State, head coach Joe Litterio made it clear following the game on Sunday what his plan and expectations were for the coming midweek games and out-of-conference slate.

“I want to win baseball games (over the break from conference play),” Litterio said following the game Sunday against Michigan State. “That’s what we spoke about after game. We have to start winning the midweeks and getting some momentum going into the weekend.”

The time off will benefit many of the Rutgers players going into the last few conference series to end the season. Big Ten baseball is a lot different than smaller conferences that the Knights will play in the upcoming midweeks and against Seton Hall.

This conference bye gives Rutgers a chance to see more competition.

“We are fortunate enough to have this weekend as a bye weekend which is good for us,” Litterio said. “I think we can get away from the conference play and that helps us. We can see more competition and pitchers in the games we are playing between.”

For the starting pitching, the time off will give them enough time to work on each individual pitch in bullpens leading up to the next conference series — Penn State on May 1.

Sophomore right-hander Gaby Rosa said he knows what he needs to fix so he doesn’t slip up and cost the Knights another game. Specifically, Rosa said he needs to work on getting ahead early in the count to set up his strikeout pitch.

“I have to try and be better throwing with two strikes,” Rosa said. “Every time I get two strikes, I have to throw a better pitch. Maybe throw a curveball in the dirt and not leave it hanging up top. When I leave my pitches up they either put it over the fence or get a double. I need to work on that before we get back into conference play (in two weeks).”

For senior left fielder Vinny Zarrillo, preparation for the remaining games of the season is more simplified. Getting back to the fundamentals of baseball is the more pressing issue for Rutgers.

“I think we need to get back to basic baseball,” Zarrillo said. “We need to focus on hitting, pitching and playing good defense. The midweek and out-of-conference games coming up are huge. We need to get momentum heading into the last few weeks of conference play. Maybe a bye week will help us so that we can work on the things we need to fix so that we can get better. Over the next two weeks, we are going to prepare so that in two weeks we are ready to go.”

Although Litterio knows the Knights have room to improve, he admitted the physical nature of the conference and the tools in the recruiting process of the Big Ten is something that Rutgers needs to adjust to.

With less than half of the Big Ten schedule already finished, the Knights need to adjust to the nature of the Big Ten.

“These guys are big boys — that’s what we run into in the Big Ten,” Litterio said. “Every team comes in with guys who are 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-5 and are big country boys. You make a mistake against these Big Ten guys, and they punish it. That’s something we have to learn, especially as a coaching staff. That’s what this league is about — being big and physical. We don’t get cheated. It might be good for us to get back to what we do well and take that with us into Penn State in two weeks.”

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

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