Baseball carried one of the Atlantic 10’s hottest offenses into conference play, but a lack of execution by the bullpen and injuries to the starting rotation have the Colonials stumbling to a 2-4 start.
The Colonials’ (16-12, 2-4 A-10) pitching staff has been plagued with injuries sidelining their staff ace and two other throwers. Tasked with an increased workload, the remaining pitching staff has recorded an alarming 5.88 earned run average across six conference games, yielding 41 hits, 36 runs and 23 walks in 29.1 innings.
“We walked too many guys at certain points,” head coach Gregg Ritchie said after the team’s series against Saint Joseph’s last weekend. “It’s a little bit of execution here and there, a couple of situational things where you could have made a more quality pitch in that moment, but I think it was one of those games where we are thin with a few injuries.”
In the team’s two losses to Saint Joseph’s, the Colonials were tied or had the lead when Ritchie turned to his bullpen. The bullpen faltered in both contests, giving up an eighth-inning home run Friday and surrendering a run in all seven innings the relievers pitched Saturday.
GW’s pitching staff has allowed the most hits in the conference with 295 knocks against them and opponents have converted those into 193 runs – the second-highest mark in the A-10.
“When we’ve struggled this year, we haven’t been executing,” pitching coach Rick Oliveri said. “It’s unacceptable to not be able to execute that high level in those big situations.”
With key players in the starting rotation either injured or working their way to the mound from injury, the bullpen has taken on an expanded role, often appearing in the fifth inning or earlier.
While the Colonials continue to struggle on the mound, a trio of relief pitchers have emerged as more reliable arms for GW.
Junior right-handed pitcher Keagan McGinnis, junior right-handed pitcher Andrew Wheeler and senior left-handed pitcher Pat Knight have become go-to weapons for Oliveri. Knight has made a team-high 15 appearances this season while McGinnis and Wheeler follow close behind with 14 appearances.
The three have found success out of the bullpen – yielding the fewest walks and hits per innings pitched among relievers – and each has done so with a unique approach at shutting down opposing hitters.
McGinnis, a Virginia Tech transfer, utilizes a breaking ball throw that he has used to punch out a staff-high 27 batters across 22.0 innings.
Wheeler, who has pitched in 24.2 innings on the mound, delivers a deceptive fastball that keeps hitters off balance.
The bullpen’s lowest ERA among pitchers who have thrown at least 10 innings belongs to Knight, the squad’s most potent southpaw and the team’s preferred weapon against left-handed hitters.
Oliveri said coaches lean on analytics and matchups to determine who to call upon in a particular scenario.
McGinnis often occupies the closer role, and opposing hitters are batting just .213 against the versatile right-hander. The righty leads the staff with four saves, which slates him fourth in the conference.
But McGinnis’ last four appearances have come mid-game when the team finds themselves in troubled water because of his ability to throw multiple innings during “swing moments.”
“If we’re in the sixth inning, and the bases are loaded with one out and their three and four hitters are up, Keagan might be our best chance to get us out of that situation so we have a chance to win the game,” Oliveri said.
In three out of six conference games, relief pitchers have taken the mound for at least six innings. Without the starting pitchers consistently providing duration on the mound, it has placed a heavy burden on a bullpen that lacks consistently effective options.
Junior right-handed pitcher Jaret Edwards has provided additional reinforcement to the struggling bullpen. But with junior right-handed pitcher Elliott Raimo making his way back from injury, Edwards has been bumped from his weekend starting spot.
Alongside Edwards – who can start, provide long-relief or close – Oliveri said he expects that sophomore infielder Trevor Kuncl, redshirt senior left-handed pitcher Kevin Hodgson and sophomore infielder Tyler Hix will “end up filling bigger roles out of the bullpen.”
“It comes down to executing pitches and making those big pitches,” Oliveri said.
The Colonials return to action Friday for the first game of a weekend series against George Mason. First pitch is slated for 3 p.m. on the road.