Throwing Strikes
by Josh Spence

From 2-5 to 15-6, calling it a turnaround may be a bit of an understatement.  Over the weekend the ECU baseball team won two games against Michigan running their total of consecutive wins to nine, and 13 of the last 14.  The Pirates resurgence has been based on three key factors, pitching, pitching, and pitching. 

Avid baseball fans know that a big key to any team’s success is a deep pitching staff.  Scoring runs is important, but the ability to stop your opponent from consistently doing so may be the single most important factor in the simple yet complicated game. 

In recent weeks the ECU baseball team has shown the ability to score runs against some of the best pitching college baseball has to offer.  Michigan’s Zach Putnam became the latest ace to go down to the Pirates over the weekend, but considering some of the guys the Pirates have beaten recently, Putnam might be proud to be a part of that list.

The way the Pirates are pitching themselves however, some of these experts may soon be revamping their lists of college baseball’s best pitchers to include some Pirates.  In the Pirate’s recent string of success with wins in 13 of the team’s last 14 games the Pirates have allowed no more than five runs in a game.  Considering the level of competition that’s a pretty impressive feat.  Five, in fact seems to be somewhat of a magic number for ECU.  When the Pirates allow more than five runs they are 0-4.  When they allow five or less they are 15-2.  When the Pirates themselves score five or more they are 11-2.

It seems the Pirates have put extra emphasis on retiring the top of opponent’s orders, and that may be the key to success as generally your best hitters will bat somewhere between one and four in your lineup.  In three games against then 6th ranked Cal State Fullerton, Titan batters one through four combined to go 8-43 (.186 avg.) with one RBI, and two runs scored.  Pepperdine’s 1-4 batters went 2-15 (.133 avg), and NC State’s first four went 3-17 (.176).

In addition to focusing on the first four East Carolina has relied on tremendous depth during the streak.  The Pirates have gotten great efforts out of the starters, and haven’t had to overuse a deep bullpen.  A fact that could pay huge dividends come the conference schedule.  Closer Shane Matthews has been lights out, and the decision to move him to closer at this point looks brilliant.  Aside from the grand slam he gave up at UCLA, Shane has not allowed a single earned run, and has converted seven of eight save opportunities.  Matthews appeared in both games against Michigan over the weekend and faced a total of 14 batters.  He struck out 9 and ended up with a save in game one and the win in game two. 

Jason Neitz and Brett Butts have been the top arms out of the bullpen, as each has an ERA below one.  In fact in nearly ten innings pitched, Butts has yet to allow an earned run.  There are five pitchers on the staff that have more strikeouts than they do innings pitched, and ten different pitchers have a win to their credit.

If the pitching continues this way the Pirates will be hard to beat, especially if they continue to hit good pitching the way they have recently.  However, I said it before and I will again, this team has yet to prove that it can win on the road.  Despite playing well the Pirates were swept in three games at nationally ranked UCLA, their only road games of the year.  For a team that won only four out of 19 road games a year ago, I assure you that is a big concern. 

Josh Spence