Baseball: Northwestern to use bullpen committee whenever needed

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Daily file photo by Sean Su

Pete Hofman fires a pitch. The junior reliever came in for Reed Mason in the 4th inning but promptly gave up 2 runs.

Max Gelman, Sports Editor


Baseball


Following Northwestern’s season-opening series against Nevada last weekend, one thing became very apparent — the Wildcats’ bullpen will function much differently in 2016.

NU (2-2) is likely to operate pitching by committee, with starting pitchers under threat of an early hook from first-year coach Spencer Allen. After getting through only 1.1 innings last Friday night against Nevada, senior starting pitcher Reed Mason was pulled for sophomore Tommy Bordignon. Then on Sunday, sophomore starter Justin Yoss was yanked for Mason despite recording just five outs.

“It will probably be a little bit different than your traditional arms that roll out on a college staff,” Allen said. “We have to match up, we just don’t have guys on the staff — at least to this point — that have proven they can go two, three times through a (batting) order.”

Allen said with the upcoming series against Pacific (0-4), having his pitchers limit free bases will be the key to defeating the Tigers. If last weekend was any indication, Allen will continue holding his starters on short leashes to accomplish this goal.

The coach’s quick call to the bullpen last Friday paid off, as Bordignon tossed 4.1 no-hit innings in Friday’s doubleheader nightcap. Bordignon, the season’s first participant in the pitching committee, said he was surprised at the timing of his entrance but happy he pitched so well.

“I went out in the second inning, and it was a little bit unexpected coming in that early,” the Glenview, Illinois native said. “It was good to come out in a pressure situation right away in my first outing of the season.”

Bordignon said, with similar conviction to his coach, that fans could be seeing the committee very often this season, mentioning how associate head coach Josh Reynolds keeps the entire pitching staff on its toes. Bordignon said against Nevada, he stayed ready by doing simple exercises such as jumping jacks between every half-inning.

Senior reliever Jake Stolley, who led the Cats with 7 saves in 2015, agrees with his teammate’s assessment. Stolley made two relief appearances against the Wolf Pack last weekend, neither of which came at the end of a game, and said the committee is much different from the way former coach Paul Stevens handled his staff.

“Coach Reynolds tells us ‘here’s who’s hot today’ so you know as a pitcher you can go whenever,” Stolley said. “Throwing as a committee, we have confidence in every one of our pitchers. If our starter’s shaky at the beginning, we’re going to go to the next guy who we have confidence in to get us through the rest of the game.”

The senior also said the committee necessitates excellent preparation, adding that preparing for different situations is crucial because sometimes games are decided in the middle innings rather than the eighth or ninth.

At the end of the day, it’s the win-loss record that matters, and the players and coaches said this method is the best way to win games. However, Allen said he knows he can’t overthink such important coaching decisions if the Cats want to succeed.

“We’ve got some of our better arms in the pen, so we’re going to be smart with it and make sure everyone contributes and knows their role,” Allen said.

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Twitter: @MaxGelman

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