Friday, April 2, 4 p.m.
Saturday, April 3, doubleheader starting at 12 p.m.
Where: Elliot Ballpark, Storrs, Connecticut
Radio: FM 91.7 WHUS
Friday: RHP Ben Casparius (2-2, 4.10 ERA) vs. RHP Jack Steele (2-2, 7.65 ERA)
Saturday: RHP Austin Peterson (2-1, 2.76 ERA) vs. LHP Zack Given (1-0, 1.64 ERA)
Sunday: RHP Joe Simeone (0-3, 6.75 ERA) vs. LHP Daniel Livnat (1-0, 1.32 ERA)
A brutal early non-conference schedule left UConn baseball well below .500, but they’ve gone on a hot run in recent weeks that has the potential to change the outlook on their season. The Huskies went 6-2 in series against St. Joseph’s and Rhode island and midweek games against Central Connecticut and Boston College and should be filled with confidence ahead of this weekend’s series against UMass.
Game one will take place on Friday, April 2 at 3 p.m., with a doubleheader to follow on Saturday starting at 12 p.m.
UMass didn’t begin their 2021 campaign until March 3 after their opening weekend series was rescheduled due to COVID-19 concerns. They come in at 7-9 on the season and their play has been all over the place. They lost to Northeastern in a midweek game to open the season, swept a Saturday doubleheader against Stony Brook, then suffered a midweek loss to Central Connecticut State, their only common opponent with the Huskies.
From there, the Minutemen beat Merrimack in a more traditional weekend series but split four games against Towson and got swept by Northeastern. Their woes were compounded with a midweek loss to 2-7 Holy Cross (ranked 288 in RPI) and it won’t get any easier this weekend against UConn.
UMass’s recent struggles have been a result of their lackluster offense. They’re hitting .208 as a team (No. 273 in Division I) and have just 31 extra-base hits so far this season. Their best hitter — and only player batting above .300 — is freshman Mike Gervasi, who’s slashing .315/.463/.367 on the year. The only batter near Gervasi’s pace is junior Aidan Wilde, who comes in hitting .286/.449/.391.
The Minutemen’s pitching staff has been very much a mixed bag so far in 2021. Sophomore Jack Steele came in as the team’s Friday night starter after starting 15 games his freshman year in 2019 and has not had the best season in that role. His first two games were great, allowing three earned runs and five hits against Stony Brook and Merrimack, but he got battered against Towson and Northeastern, allowing 22 hits and 14 earned runs through 9.1 innings.
Alex LeBlanc has filled in as UMass’s Saturday starter at points but the hulking freshman has struggled with an 8.68 ERA through three starts. After that, UMass has mostly been running starting pitcher by committee. Five different pitchers have earned starts, but have typically only gone a few innings. Most notably, left-handers Daniel Livnat and Zack Given have made a few starts each but have thrown the second and third most innings on the team and have ERAs of 1.32 and 1.64 respectively. That’s impressed the UMass staff enough that they’ve both been given a chance again, this time against a hot UConn lineup.
What to watch for
Chris Winkel heats up
Captain Chris re-emerged as an offensive force in the UConn lineup against Rhode Island and Boston College, going 6-for-14 with three massive homers and seven RBI. Head coach Jim Penders made it clear after the game that, as a leader of the team, when he gets going, the rest of the team gets going.
Having the senior Winkel in the lineup gives the Huskies more options in the outfield, where his range in center field is always appreciated and allows them to rest guys like Kyler Fedko and Kevin Ferrer in the designated hitter spot for a game. Winkel could be moved up in the lineup if his hot streak continues, but Penders could still leave him at the nine spot to allow him to reach base as a “second leadoff” hitter.
Answers to rotation questions
Freshman Pat Gallagher’s recent performances could hold the key to steadying the Huskies’ weekend rotation, at least in the short run. The Massachusetts native has come on strong in recent weeks, firing two fantastic midweek starts against Central Connecticut State and Boston College where he allowed no earned runs, seven hits, and just three walks while striking out 12.
Penders has expressed his desire to use Gallagher as a fourth weekend starter in conference play, but as of this weekend, Joe Simeone is still projected to lock down his weekend spot in three-game series. However, if Simeone’s string of underwhelming performances continues — he has a 9.00 ERA in his past three starts and failed to get out of the fourth inning in every appearance this year — Gallagher might jump him in the pecking order.