UConn baseball fell to Virginia two games to one this weekend in a hard-fought opening series but baseball is baseball and we got our first glimpse of the Hook C in action in nearly a year. Though three games is a very small sample size we still got enough to draw a few conclusions on how this season might look for the Huskies.
Chris Brown stakes his claim for the starting position at third base.
Freshman Chris Brown’s flashy glove at third base might have gotten him the lion’s share of recognition from this weekend, including a spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays, but don’t sleep on his contribution at the plate this weekend. That’s what might have paved the way to make him an every-day starter at the hot corner — or at least a rotation option once David Langer returns.
“[Chris] should be proud of his effort. He wasn’t penciled in as a starter when Langer went down and he did a really nice job,” head coach Jim Penders said on the team’s YouTube page about Brown’s weekend performance.
Brown went 3-for-11 at the plate on the weekend and notched the first extra-base hit of his short UConn career on Sunday but raw stats only tell part of the story. Brown came up clutch time and time again all series with good at-bats and important base hits in big moments.
It started on Friday, when Brown came face-to-face with Andrew Abbott, Virginia’s Friday starter, for the second time that night. Brown drew a ten-pitch at-bat from Abbott, and although he eventually popped out on the infield, Abbott was chased from the game for Paul Kosanovich, who allowed UConn’s only run of the game.
Brown’s tremendous weekend continued on Saturday with a single to break the deadlock in the fourth inning that drove in two and a double to left in the seventh for his first extra-base hit of his UConn career. He got it done in the field as well, flashing the glove impressively in the hot corner in addition to his SportsCenter-worthy over the head snag.
Sunday starter auditions
With Ben Casparius and Joe Simeone the first two names on the lineup sheets to start the weekend, the UConn coaching staff is still figuring out who will fill the final two spots in the weekend rotation.
Three of the biggest candidates for those spots got some run out on Sunday in the rubber match of the series.
Jimmy Wang, the 6-foot-3 sophomore from Beijing got the first crack and struggled with location early, gave up three hits and hit a batter, which resulted in him getting pulled after 1.2 frames. We have a decent sample size of Wang as a starter in 2019, where he threw 48.1 innings with a 3.91 ERA, so we know he can do a job in that spot already but he might need a few weeks to return to that form. Because of injury and illness issues in the 2020 season, he’s only thrown 4.2 innings of competitive baseball through a year and a half.
Austin Peterson got the ball from Wang as a long reliever and provided a good account of himself in his first appearance in a UConn uniform. He reigned in the game by pitching to contact and hitting his spots against an intimidating Virginia lineup and showed us the stuff that made him the freshman player of the year at Purdue. Peterson got through 3.2 innings and allowed just one run off consecutive hits in the third. Other than that, he picked up right where he left off in 2019 after a year in the junior college ranks.
Pat Gallagher was the final potential starter to appear in the weekend series, taking the ball from Peterson in a standard relief appearance. Gallagher pounded the zone, throwing 17 of 24 pitches for strikes but had mixed results. He retired the first two batters he faced in the sixth inning which let Peterson off hook for two runners left on base but had a difficult start to the seventh and gave up an insurance run that Virginia never needed.
Josh MacDonald and the rest of the coaching staff won’t be making decisions based on one weekend but given the body of evidence, it looks like Peterson and Wang will remain the third and fourth weekend starters with Gallagher up first for that weekday role.
Ben Casparius is the real deal
After months of expectations, Ben Casparius made the first start of his UConn career on Friday. How well Casparius would do as weekend rotation anchor was somewhat of a question-mark nationally given the fact that he wasn’t even primarily a pitcher at North Carolina. But the UConn coaching staff had praised him from the moment he landed on campus and after this weekend at least, it’s fair to say he lived up to the hype.
The Westport native took part in a thrilling pitchers’ duel with Virginia starter Andrew Abbott on Friday, taking on the dominant Hoos lineup with blood in his eyes. After a shaky first few innings where he allowed the only pair of runs in the game, he settled down and sat down one batter after another. Casparius went 5.2 innings with six K’s and just one walk. His fastball was pinpoint and he displayed an impressive array of breaking pitches early and often.
Casparius might have earned the loss in the box score but his Friday night performance showed that he has the pitching repertoire to become a dominant starter for UConn.