Replacing the departed members of the pitching staff—especially longtime ace Deck McGuire—will not be easy, but the Jackets will have three experienced starters in the weekend rotation and plenty of talented arms available to fill out the rest of the staff in 2011.
Stepping into McGuire’s role as the Friday starter and staff ace will be junior Mark Pope, who excelled as Tech’s primary midweek starter in 2010 before moving into the weekend rotation late in the season. Pope finished the year 8-1 with a 3.78 ERA, and although his .292 opponents’ batting average was relatively high, his 5.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio (73 K to 13 BB) was the best among all ACC starters.
Tech’s top left-handed starter, junior Jed Bradley, will take over Saturday duties as the No. 2 starter on the staff. The 6-foot-4 southpaw has been a fixture as Tech’s Sunday starter dating back to the middle of his freshman season, and over that span he has been a fairly reliable option for Head Coach Danny Hall. His 4.83 ERA and 1.45 WHIP last season were far from excellent, but he did strike out 99 batters in 91.1 innings.
As far as the bullpen goes, Tech will have to replace its two best right-handed relievers from last season. Closer Andrew Robinson, who had a 2.43 ERA and eight saves, is gone; the same is true for setup man Patrick Long, who held opposing hitters to a .182 average over 17.1 innings of relief. Tech will, however, get a boost from the return of senior closer Kevin Jacob, who was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 18th round but elected to return to school. A preseason first-team All-American heading into 2010, Jacob missed much of the season with a shoulder injury and only ended up making ten appearances. He had a 5.23 ERA in those ten games and did not pitch during the postseason.
Sophomore Luke Bard logged the second most innings of any returning Tech reliever last season, and he will look to improve after posting a 7.43 ERA in his freshman campaign. Bard has plenty of raw talent but needs to work on his command; he allowed 30 hits and 14 walks in 26.2 innings last season.
The Jackets also bring back three left-handers who have been key members of the bullpen for some time: senior Zach Brewster, junior Jake Davies and senior Taylor Wood. Brewster and Davies saw their usage drop considerably in 2010 compared to 2009 as Hall relied more on his right-handers in key situations. Wood had an impressive 2.03 ERA and .136 opponents’ BA in 2010, but he too was used sparingly, only pitching 13.1 innings.
Because the Jackets’ pitching staff remains largely intact compared to the lineup, the role that freshmen will play on the staff in 2011 remains uncertain, but the midweek rotation spots are open. Hall likely will not hesitate to install a rookie such as right-hander Matthew Grimes or right-hander Dusty Isaacs in a midweek role.