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O’Connor breaks down UVA starters, pen availability for College World Series

andrew abbott
Andrew Abbott. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Smoke and mirrors, spit and tape. Brian O’Connor and Drew Dickinson had to use everything, including also the kitchen sink, to get the Virginia pitching staff through the Regional and Super Regional.

The College World Series, with built-in off days, is a different story.

“The separation in games has a lot to do with pitching,” said O’Connor, as his ‘Hoos edge closer to their CWS opener on Sunday against #3 seed Tennessee.

O’Connor hasn’t yet named a starter for Game 1, though you’d expect it to be lefty ace Andrew Abbott (8-6, 3.04 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 152K/30BB, .228 opponent BA in 100.2 IP).

This being Oak’s fifth go at the College World Series, he has a plan in mind for how to go once he’s decided on his Game 1.

“Typically what I have done is named the Game 1 starter, which I’m not going to name that today, but a name a Game 1 starter, and then, you know, in the back of my mind, I have Game 2 starter, and then everybody else is available for Game 1,” O’Connor said on Wednesday.

UVA’s No. 2 starter most of the season, righthander Mike Vasil (7-5, 4.82 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 65K/17BB, .311 opponent BA in 74.2 IP), has been struggling of late, to say the least – dating back to May 1, he’s 1-2 with an 8.35 ERA, 2.84 WHIP, 8 K/12 BB in 18.1 IP.

Vasil worked out of the bullpen in the Super Regional last weekend, and it would make sense to see him back in the pen this week, given what O’Connor has at his disposal in terms of quality depth.

Matt Wyatt (4-1, 3.79 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 46K/19BB, .246 opponent BA in 35.2 IP) has yet to surrender a run in 10.2 innings in the postseason, in which he earned wins in elimination games over South Carolina (5 IP, 2 hits, 0 runs, 8K/1BB) and Dallas Baptist (5.2 IP, 2 hits, 0 runs, 8K/2BB).

Assuming Wyatt is the Game 2 starter, then O’Connor has Vasil and lefty No. 3 starter Nate Savino (3-3, 3.86 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 33K/15BB, .269 opponent BA in 53.2 IP), plus another guy who has re-emerged in the postseason run, former weekend starter Griff McGarry (0-5, 6.06 ERA, 2.05 WHIP, 61K/40BB, .225 opponent BA in 35.2 IP).

The season numbers for McGarry are a contrast to how effective the power righty (McGarry’s repertoire features a 99 mph fastball) has been of late.

With Virginia’s season on the line, McGarry pitched into the eighth inning of the 4-0 win over Dallas Baptist in Game 2 of the Super Regional, allowing two hits in seven and a third innings of work, striking out 10 and walking three.

McGarry also pitched into the fourth of the 8-3 elimination game win over ODU on June 6 before having to leave with a blister on his right thumb.

That’s a lot of long relief – Vasil, Savino, McGarry – for Games 1 and 2.

And that’s not counting Devin Ortiz, who put up four scoreless innings in his first start of the season back on June 8 in the 4-3 win that sent the Cavaliers into the Super Regional.

“Those guys that have started Game 3 during the year, you know, in the Regional, Super Regional, they’re on the docket for Sunday, because if you win Sunday and then you win Tuesday, you don’t play again for, you know, two more days,” O’Connor said.

The schedule, indeed, has the team that emerges 2-0 in the double-elimination format not playing again until Friday, with an if necessary game on Saturday.

O’Connor has four long-relief guys, plus his run of short guys – lights-out lefty Brandon Neeck (2-0, 1.93 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 40K/11BB, .225 opponent BA in 23.1 IP), Kyle Whitten (0-1, 1 save, 3.23 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 37K/18BB, .250 opponent BA in 30.2 IP), and Zach Messinger (3-2, 4.64 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 63K/21BB, .239 opponent BA in 56.1 IP).

There are two big question marks hanging over the back end of the bullpen – in the form of closer Stephen Schoch (4-1, 8 saves, 2.52 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 52K/15BB, .209 opponent BA in 35.2 IP) and setup man Blake Bales (3-0, 0.71 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 54K/15BB, .138 opponent BA in 38.0 IP).

Bales pitched to two batters in the 3-2 win over South Carolina on June 6, and that’s been it in terms of his postseason to this point.

O’Connor said this week that he’s not sure when Bales is going to be available, though he did offer that the undisclosed injury that has had Bales out of action is not season-ending.

As far as Schoch is concerned, this wasn’t public knowledge, but the Big Donkey wasn’t available last weekend in the Super Regional, according to O’Connor.

“The guy on Tuesday in the Regional final threw 73 pitches. I think the last time he threw 73 pitches, he was probably 17 years old, and I think he’s 24 now. He’s used to one- and two-inning stints, right, and so, you know, I needed to give him some time,” O’Connor said.

“I’m hopeful that he he’ll be ready to roll on Sunday. You know, we’ll see. But, you know, he just he just wasn’t available for us in the Super Regional, but I think this time will serve him well. You know, he had a shutdown phase a little bit earlier, about a month ago or so, five or six weeks ago, where there was a period of time that he didn’t pitch. He came back really hot and pitching great baseball. So I think he’ll be, I’m hoping that he’ll be at our disposal this weekend.”

Story by Chris Graham

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