The Owls have struggled so far this season, especially on Sundays, when they are 2-6.
Games played on every other day of the week have the Owls at a 6-10 record – a slightly better winning percentage.
“Usually by the third game of the weekend you are usually tired and down towards the bottom end of your pitching staff,” coach Ryan Wheeler said. “It’s always tough to play on Sundays, but we have talked for two years that championships are won on Sundays. You have to be able to close out series or win a close game and that is a sign of a good team.”
So far this season, the Owls have averaged 7.6 strikeouts, 6.9 hits, and 3.4 runs per Sunday game. In contrast, the team’s opponents have averaged 5.6 strikeouts, 10.5 hits and 8.4 runs.
The end-of-the-weekend struggles can be blamed on the backend of the Owls’ pitching staff. Other than Matt Hockenberry (4-1), the rest of the staff is a combined 4-14 and their ERAs are mostly above 4.50, with Ryan Kuehn being the exception with a 3.86 mark.
The transfers of three key pitchers as a result of the cut have caused Wheeler to juggle a patchwork pitching staff. Twins Patrick and Eric Peterson were figured to be top of the rotation starters and junior reliever Adam Dian was thought to bolster the bullpen.
Without the trio, Kuehn has been thrust into the starting role from the bullpen. He performed well enough to get the win today.
The most common starters on Sunday games on are senior Preston Hill and freshman Simon Matthews. Matthews is off to a rough start this season with an 0-5 record and a 12.74 ERA and has accounted for three of the Sunday losses. Hill has an 0-4 mark with an ERA of 6.54 and two of the Sunday losses.
“I think it’s all mental,” Hill said. “We start early and don’t come into the game until we are called, so I think that is our issue.”
The Owls starters on Sunday’s average four innings a start, as opposed to their opponents’ pitchers who average 5.8 innings a start and have had three straight Sundays with seven innings pitched.
The bullpen has been inconsistent this season as they have been solid at times and leaky in others. The solid times have come with two runs allowed over four Sunday games. The bad time have come when they allowed five, seven or 10 runs in different games.
“It all starts with our starting pitcher,” Zach Batchelor, the team’s closer, said of the bullpen struggles. “If [Hockenberry] is able to do a good job on Fridays, we will have more guys in the pen ready to go later in the weekend.”
Today, the Owls beat up on Cincinnati pitcher Mitch Patishall for their first Sunday win since March 23. Patishall is a sophomore with a 5.59 ERA, but Wheeler said he saw this game as a chance to get a critical win.
“I had no idea what year the guy and I just looked at his numbers and tried to figure out how we could get him out of the ball game,” Wheeler said.
As the conference tournament nears on May 21st the Owls will have to do more of the same to stay in contention.
“We are not scoreboard-watching yet, but this was a pivotal game because they are down near the bottom with us and this was a two game swing since we are up on them by two games and have a tiebreaker,” Wheeler said.
Stephen Godwin can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @StephenGodwinJr.