As UConn baseball heads to Clinton, South Carolina to take on Presbyterian College in their fourth weekend series of the year, the Huskies are still trying to figure a few things out. They sit at 5-7, fresh off a series loss to New Orleans where they were outscored 27-20 — that’s more runs than they gave up in any series last year.
Presbyterian is 2-10 on the year, and their only wins have come over low-major Brown University and Manhattan College, so this weekend could be a golden opportunity for head coach Jim Penders to tinker with some things and figure out how to optimize this young team.
Here are three questions that this weekend series can help answer for UConn baseball:
How should the starting rotation look going forward?
Only one of the three UConn pitchers to start a game this year has an ERA under 4.00, and it also happens to be the only one who had never pitched an inning of Division I baseball before 2020. Junior Nick Krauth has been lights-out since transferring in from Diablo Valley Junior College in California this offseason, allowing just a single earned run and six walks, giving up just a .210 batting average and a .510 OPS to opposing hitters.
Meanwhile, the two incumbent starters haven’t been as impressive. Colby Dunlop hasn’t found his footing yet in 2020, allowing 19 earned runs in 10.1 innings after a very promising freshman year. Joe Simeone has had an up and down junior season after three Friday starts; he couldn’t make it through an inning against Michigan in his second appearance, but has allowed just one earned run otherwise.
On the other hand, senior Kenny Haus has fared well to start the year. Haus started midweek games for the Huskies in 2019, but since the Huskies have had none to speak of so far in 2020, he’s served as the long reliever for 8.1 innings with a 1.0 ERA and hasn’t allowed a hit until his latest outing of the season.
With what looks like four capable starters to hold down three weekend spots, pitching coach Josh MacDonald has chosen to keep the same three weekend starters but shuffle them, switching Krauth to Saturday and Dunlop to Sunday.
Who is Caleb Wurster’s ideal setup man?
With the departure of Jacob Wallace to the Colorado Rockies farm system, Caleb Wurster and his nasty sidearm delivery is the newest in a long line of very talented UConn closers: Wallace, CJ Dandeneau, PJ Poulin and John Russell, among others.
Wurster has picked up right where he left off in 2020, allowing one earned run through four appearances, earning his first save of the year on February 21 against Michigan. His spot is secure, but the job of his setup man is still up for grabs. A few relievers have stood out, in a limited sample size: Andrew Marrerro, Randy Polonia and Will Lucas. Haus has also worked as Wurster’s setup man to a certain extent, but he could always return to being a weekday starter.
Marrero was one of Penders’ more heralded recruits of the 2019 class, lettering four years at Wilbur Cross in New Haven, setting the school record for strikeouts. The 5’9” righty has made three appearances of an inning each, striking out four while allowing a single walk with a fastball hovering around 89, a curveball and a changeup.
Polonia is in his second season back after multiple injuries caused him to miss both the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The redshirt senior pitched late in 2019 to mixed results, but seems to have settled down so far in 2020, with a limited sample size, striking out 5 in 2.1 innings of work.
Sophomore Will Lucas is a two-way player by trade, and Penders used him at third base most often in 2019, to little success. It’s still early, but he seems to have found a better role in the bullpen so far in 2020. He hasn’t allowed more than a hit in any of his appearances, striking out 7 through 6.0 innings of work.
This weekend should present at least one save opportunity for Wurster just by the law of averages, so we will get more insight into the relievers’ pecking order.
Who should DH?
With catcher Patrick Winkel on ice for the entire entire year, UConn’s designated hitter spot was thrown into chaos. Last year, catcher Paul Gozzo had it pretty much locked up, appearing there exclusively from the middle of May on. When he wasn’t in the position, it went to Winkel, Kyler Fedko or Christian Fedko when they wanted to keep their bats in the lineup while staying strong defensively.
This year, with Gozzo taking over main catching duties, the DH spot has been up for grabs. Redshirt freshman Kevin Ferrer batted there twice in the first two series of the year, with other appearances going to Christian Fedko, as Zach Bushling played second to shore up the Huskies defensively vs. Vanderbilt, and Gozzo, to give him a rest from behind the plate.
Then, Old Dominion transfer Erik Stock took the position on Frebruary 22 against Michigan, and he seems unlikely to relinquish it any time soon. the junior has gone 8-for-14 through four appearances at DH, with two doubles and 3 RBI. Stock is a true two-way player, tossing two innings of release in three appearances, but for now, it seems like the DH spot is the best place to get his monster bat in the lineup.
How to watch
Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Connecticut
Game one: Saturday, March 7, 11 a.m.
Game two: Saturday, March 7 following game one
Game three: Sunday, March 8, noon
Radio: FM 91.7 WHUS