Baseball: Northwestern hopes to ‘abuse bats’ in final series of season

Jonah Rosenblum

Nearly every single play in baseball begins with a pitch and a decision. The decision belongs to the batter. He must decide whether to swing at the pitch he is given. When it comes to that choice, Northwestern coach Paul Stevens has a clear bias.

“Right now, I’d much rather have guys swinging than looking,” Stevens said. “The fact is we spend a lot of money on those bats and I just like seeing them get abused.”

The Wildcats (17-34) were aggressive if nothing else in their 9-4 loss to Notre Dame on Tuesday and will need to carry that philosophy over to a three-game series with Saint Louis starting Thursday.

At times Tuesday, their aggressive nature worked in their favor, such as in the first inning, when sophomore shortstop Kyle Ruchim leapt on the first pitch he saw from Patrick Veerkamp and golfed it into left field.

At times, it worked against them. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning, junior designated hitter Colby Everett and senior catcher Geoff Rowan were both retired on first-pitch fly balls.

“I like us getting after it. I like us being on the offensive when we’re on offense and using the bats to do some damage,” Stevens said. “I’m not going to sit there and be upset if somebody swings at a breaking ball first pitch because I’d much rather have you swing and swing through it then try to adjust and just fillet something.”

Paul Snieder was certainly aggressive early on. Perhaps encouraged by the favorable winds at Rocky Miller Park on Tuesday, the senior first baseman hit line-drive singles in each of his first two at-bats. The good vibes came to a groaning halt there, however, as he struck out looking in each of his final three plate appearances. After his final strikeout, with runners on first and second in the bottom of the eighth inning, Snieder held the bat aloft and appeared on the verge of hurtling the bat into the ground.

“I got to go and just swing the bat,” Snieder said. “The last three at-bats, I don’t know what was going on there. I just, for some reason, could not swing the bat. Even though I was getting hittable pitches, I wasn’t swinging the bat.”

Stevens said sometimes his hitters tend to think too much at the plate.

“We have some very, very intelligent individuals at this university, and sometimes analysis causes paralysis,” Stevens said. “And when you start overthinking something up there, all of the sudden you’re handcuffed. All I’m telling you is when he lets it go, he’s as good of a hitter as I’ve ever seen.”

Sometimes, success at the plate might even mean swinging at the first pitch.

“If you get a good first pitch fastball, outer half, a really good hittable pitch, it’s good to try to take a hack at it,” Snieder said. “I mean more times than not, if you swing at that and you barrel it up, you’re going to get a base hit.”

Of course, getting on base isn’t necessarily the Cats’ chief problem. They knocked out 13 hits in their loss to the Fighting Irish, the same number of hits as Notre Dame. The question is whether NU can drive runners in.

“Any time there are runners on, pitchers are going to pitch you differently and I think that sometimes we just have a little trouble making the adjustment with runners in scoring position, all of us, myself included,” Ruchim said. “That’s where we kind of need to take that next step if we’re going to be a winning team.”

Although it has long since lost its chance to end its season with a winning record, NU will have one last opportunity to produce some offense when they host Saint Louis (38-15) for a three-game set at Rocky Miller Park. Their challenge will be steep, however, as the Billikens boast two starting pitchers with earned run averages below 2.75. Alex Alemann and Clay Smith have combined for 13 wins this season, just four fewer than NU’s season total.

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