Thursday, March 6, 2014

Wolfpack Baseball Notebook

A few notes to digest while waiting for a break in the rain on Friday prior to NC State's ACC season-opening series vs. Notre Dame.

• Looking To Rookies For An Offensive Spark: Since scoring double-digit runs in three consecutive games the first week of the season, NC State has struggled at times offensively, especially in the six games immediately following those first-week routs of Canisius, Elon and North Carolina A&T. In those six games, NC State batted .237 as a team and scored 4.3 runs per game. Freshmen Andrew Knizner and Kyle Cavanaugh were the offensive leaders during that six-game skid. Knizner batted .421 (8-for-19), and Cavanaugh batted an even .400 (4-for-10) while playing in four of the six games. No one else among the regular starters batted higher than Trea Turner’s .273 (6-for-22).

Weaker competition the last two games — State routed Youngstown State 16-1 on March 2 and N.C. A&T 17-4 on March 5 — helped to perk up the recent offensive numbers, but the fact remains that in the eight games since those three routs, Knizner and Cavanaugh have easily been State’s offensive leaders. Knizner, who brings a 10-game hitting streak into the weekend series vs. Notre Dame, is hitting an even .500 (14-for-28) with a double, two homers and nine RBIs in the last eight games. Cavanaugh is hitting .333 (6-for-18) with a double and six RBIs in the last eight. Again, the rest of the lineup lags behind the two freshmen. Turner is hitting .300 (9-for-30) the last eight games, with Jake Fincher right behind at .292 (7-for-24).

• Knizner’s 10-Game Hitting Streak: Not only is freshman third baseman Andrew Knizner leading the Wolfpack with a .432 batting average through 12 games, he also has a 10-game hitting streak heading into this weekend’s ACC series vs. Notre Dame. During his streak, Knizner is batting .474 (18-for-38) with four doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs. He’s driven in eight runs in the Pack’s last two games. He’s had multiple hits in six of the 10 games, including a career-best three-hit games Sunday vs. Youngstown State and Wednesday against North Carolina A&T.

Knizner’s streak is the longest by an NC State player this season, and the longest by a State freshman since Trea Turner and Brett Austin had hitting streaks of 13 and 11 games, respectively, in 2012. Turner batted .527 (29-for-55) with four doubles, a triple, two homers, 19 runs scored, 16 RBIs and 12 steals during his streak two years ago. Austin batted .381 (16-for-42) with three doubles and eight RBIs.

The school record for longest hitting streak by a freshman was Dallas Poulk’s 17-game streak to end the 2007 season. Poulk finished ’07 with a flourish, batting .459 (34-for-74) with three doubles, three triples, a homer, 13 runs scored and nine RBIs.

• The Other Freshman In The Lineup: While Knizner has gotten most of the attention among the Wolfpack’s freshmen, big Matt Cavanaugh, all 6-5 and 210 pounds of him, is hitting .370 in limited action and has battled his way into the starting lineup. Cavanaugh comes into the weekend series vs. Notre Dame riding a modest five-game hitting streak, batting .375 (6-for-16) with six RBIs during the streak. He has hit safely in eight of the nine games in which he has appeared.

• More About Avent’s Arms: No matter what’s been ailing the Wolfpack offense the last two weeks, the pitching staff has done more than its share to lighten the hitters’ collective burden. As a staff, NC State is 7-1 with a 1.77 ERA over the last eight games. Starters Logan Jernigan (2-0, 13 ⅓ innings) and Brad Stone (1-0, 11 innings) have not allowed a run in that time, nor have relievers Andrew Woeck (2-0, 1 save, 4 appearances, 6 ⅓ innings), Jon Olczak (3 appearances, 2 saves, 5 innings), D.J. Thomas (3 appearances, 2 ⅓ innings).

• More About Avent’s Bullpen: The NC State bullpen has been almost untouchable these last eight contests, posting a 3-0 record with four saves and a 0.72 ERA in 25 innings and 19 appearances. Aside from a seventh-inning run that seldom-used freshman Cory Wilder allowed Youngstown State in a mop-up role on March 2, the last run charged to the State bullpen was a seventh-inning run scored by Appalachian State against Eric Peterson on Feb. 23. Wilder’s mop-up run was the only run allowed by State relievers in 20 innings since Peterson’s against Appalachian. Pack relievers also have been stingy with inherited runners the last eight games, inheriting 10 runners from previous pitchers and stranding eight of them.

• Staff Dominance: Looking at the season as a whole, through the first 12 games, NC State’s pitching staff sports a 2.19 ERA in 107 innings. Wolfpack pitchers have allowed 73 hits, struck out 109 and walked 37. The starting pitchers are 6-2 with a 2.55 ERA. In 67 innings, the starters have allowed 47 hits, struck out 58 and walked 21, holding opposing hitters to a .198 batting average.

The real story, however, is the bullpen, which was something of an unknown coming into the season after the departures of Grant Sasser, Chris Overman and Josh Easley. Head coach Elliott Avent has gone to his bullpen 26 times, and the relief corps has responded with a 4-0 record, a 1.58 ERA and four saves in as many opportunities. Wolfpack relievers have allowed 26 hits, struck out 51 and walked 14 in 40 innings. Opponents are batting .187 against NC State relievers. Three State relievers have notched wins, three have recorded saves, and six have an ERA of 2.08 or better.

• Jernigan On A Roll: At 2-0 with a 1.04 ERA through three starts, it’s safe to say that junior righthander Logan Jernigan is smoking hot. In his last two starts, in fact, Jernigan is 2-0 and has allowed just six hits in 13 ⅓ shutout innings. He has a scoreless-innings streak of 14 ⅓ innings, dating back to his first appearance of the season.

Much of Jernigan’s success can be attributed to how well he locks in with runners on base. Thus far in 2014, opposing hitters are 1-for-21 with runners on base against Jernigan, including 0-for-13 in his last two starts. His last start, a 3-0 combined shutout of Michigan, Jernigan used just 77 pitches to throw 7 ⅓ innings, by far the most efficient start of his career.

• Pitching From The Stretch: Jernigan is not the only Wolfpack pitcher who is performing masterfully with runners on base. Opponents are hitting just .181 (28-for-155) with runners on base against the staff as a whole. Jernigan leads the staff with his 1-for-21 (.048) lockdown, but Brad Stone has allowed a .087 average (2-for-23) with runners on base. Carlos Rodon is allowing just a .156 average (5-for-32) with runners aboard.

Among relievers, righthander Eric Peterson has allowed one hit in nine at-bats (.111) with runners on base, and freshman righthander Joe O’Donnell and senior lefty D.J. Thomas have allowed one hit in seven at-bats (.143) each.

• Stingy With Two Outs: Most people are surprised to learn that most runs in baseball score with two outs, but it only makes sense. Barring a home run by the offense, one or two outs usually occur in the time it takes to string together the two or three hits needed to mount a rally and put runs on the board. One reason why NC State’s ERA is a stingy 2.19 is the Pack’s dominance with two outs. Opponents are batting just .134 against State with two away. They’re 4-for-20 against Logan Jernigan, 3-for-17 against Brad Stone, and 1-for-18 against Carlos Rodon.

• 10-Run Inning: After losing to NC State by a 15-0 count on Feb. 19, North Carolina A&T returned to Doak Field at Dail Park on March 5 bent on revenge. After falling behind 4-2 through the middle of the fifth, however, the Wolfpack tied the score at 4-4 with a pair of runs in the fifth, then erupted for a 10-run sixth inning to put the game away. State went on to prevail 17-4. A&T helped matters along considerably by committing seven errors, including five in the 10-run sixth.

The 10-run inning was NC State’s first double-digit inning in 2014 and, in fact, its first during the BBCOR bat era. The last time the Wolfpack hung a double-digit number in a single inning was April 7, 2010, when State scored 11 runs in the second inning of an 18-1 victory over Coppin State. NC State also scored 10 runs in the first inning of the 2010 season en route to a pulsating 32-3 win over La Salle on Feb. 19 of that year.

• Error-Fest 2014: North Carolina A&T played poorly in all phases of the game in its 17-4 loss to the Wolfpack on March 5, but the Aggies set new standards for fielding ineptitude, committing seven errors, including five in a 10-run sixth inning for NC State. The last opponent to commit seven or more errors in a game against the Wolfpack was Davidson, which committed eight miscues in an 11-0 State victory on March 7, 2012.

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