The pitching staff will be relying on consistency and experience as it returns twelve players from last year, including three of its four starting pitchers in senior Dusty Isaacs, junior Cole Pitts and sophomore Jonathan King. King and Pitts are projected to be starters again this year, while head coach Danny Hall is hoping to use Isaacs out of the bullpen, where he feels the senior is more effective. Junior Josh Heddinger and freshman Zac Ryan will most likely be joining them in the starting rotation, with Ryan assuming the role of midweek starter.
Pitts will be back in the rotation after starting 13 games a year ago. He posted a 5-3 win-loss record to go with a 4.71 earned run average, allowing 60 hits and 36 walks while striking out 43. Opponents batted just .246 against him all year, which was second among regular starters only to departing senior Buck Farmer. His best game of the year came against No. 5 Virginia, in which he allowed two runs off of only two hits to allow the Jackets to clinch their first series win over the Cavaliers in five years. He is praised by his coaches for the command he has over all his pitches, which should be on display again throughout the year.
King will be joining Pitts as a regular weekend starter and may very likely be the opening day starter, according to Hall. The lefty made 14 appearances out of the bullpen and started ten games last year, posting a 4.04 ERA, which is the best among the projected starters. He rarely walks batters and gave up only three home runs in 69 innings pitched in 2013. He is coming off of a back injury that caused him to miss most of the fall team practices but looked strong in the winter, so it should not be an issue.
Isaacs is known for his leadership qualities, having been named as one of the team’s captains. He will be working out of the bullpen this year, most likely as the closer, after starting a career-high 16 games in 2013. He struck out 67 batters and walked 33, while opponents hit an average of .260 against him. His record was 4-8 on the year but he received poor run support in several games, including one against Clemson in which he pitched a shutout through 6.1 innings in an eventual extra-innings loss.
Heddinger earned a starting role this year after a monumental postseason performance against Vanderbilt last June. He pitched a complete-game, two-hit shutout against the top-seeded Commodores in an elimination game to force a winner-take-all game in the NCAA Regionals. His pitching heated up late in the regular season and he won all three of his postseason starts. He also pitched his summer league team to the championship crown, so there is no doubt about his ability to perform well under pressure.
There is a lot of seniority in the bullpen, as captains Isaacs and Devin Stanton will join Alex Cruz and DeAndre Smelter working in relief. Cruz will probably be the team’s middle reliever as he has been in years past, while also seeing time at first base. He made 26 relief appearances last year, and batters hit .303 against him. Smelter, who had a breakout year at wide receiver on the football team last fall, has put in the extra work over the winter and should be ready to pitch in relief when the need arises. Senior Jonathan Roberts and sophomore Joe Wiseman will also be working out of the pen, while senior Matthew Grimes looks to bounce back after missing a year and a half due to injury. Sophomore Sam Clay has worked hard to improve his command and will continue to pitch in relief, while eight other pitchers on the roster, most of them freshman, will continue to work hard and battle for playing time.