Baseball coach Ken Henderson privately met with his team Tuesday after its 5-1 loss to Eastern Illinois and said it was because the team hasn’t shown enough leadership and toughness this season.
“We’ve won 12 games because we have talent. We haven’t won any more than 12, and we’ve lost four in a row because we haven’t battled and haven’t been tough enough,” Henderson said. “It’s not been fun, and we haven’t played as hard as we should, but we can turn it around tomorrow.”
Defensive miscues, poor at-bats and lack of timely hitting were all things Henderson said the Salukis (12-9) need to change as they head into their first conference series against Bradley (10-6-1) Friday to Sunday at Abe Martin Field. Henderson said the team hasn’t battled enough under pressure, and that’s part of the reason it has gone into a four-game losing streak.
“I don’t think it’s (about) pressure, I think it’s just we’ve got some guys that are maybe a little self-conscious about what they’re doing,” junior outfielder Austin Montgomery said.
Part of the problem is the 54 errors the team has accrued in 21 games this season, which puts the Salukis on pace to finish the regular season with 141. The poor defense has allowed 41 of the 144 runs SIU has given up this season to be unearned.
In 57 games last season, SIU committed 79 errors and gave up 54 unearned runs.
“We definitely have to clean up on defense. We’re giving up a lot of runs with our defense right now,” Montgomery said. “But our pitching’s been pretty good, for the most part, and our offense has been at least fairly consistent.”
The starting rotation this weekend won’t change, Henderson said, with junior left-handed pitcher Cody Forsythe (0-1) starting Friday at 1 p.m. He has a 3.81 earned run average in five starts this season, with 23 strikeouts and 10 walks.
“The team … Friday will be a lot different than the team we’ve been the last few days,” Forsythe said.
Forsythe started in the only win SIU had over Bradley last season in three games, picking up the victory. He gave up four runs, two earned on nine hits over eight innings.
He’ll square off against Bradley senior left-handed pitcher Joe Bircher (3-0), who pitched a complete game two-hitter last season against the Salukis. He has a 2.55 ERA in five starts this season, with 44 strikeouts.
“(Bradley’s pitchers) aren’t dominating guys, but they know how to pitch,” Henderson said. “We just have to take the right approach against them. We have to take what they can give us. If you try to do too much against them, you’re not going to have a lot of success.”
Senior right-handed pitcher Cameron Maldonado (2-0) will take the bump Saturday. He gave up eight earned runs in five and a third innings last season against Bradley in a losing effort.
Maldonado has a 6.33 ERA in 27 innings this season, giving up 35 hits while striking out 21.
Junior left-handed pitcher Nathan Dorris will round out the starting rotation Sunday. He was shelled in his last start against Illinois March 18, giving up six earned runs on nine hits in four and a third innings.
Bradley hasn’t announced its starters for Saturday or Sunday yet, but senior right-handed pitcher Justin Ziegler (1-1) and junior left-handed pitcher John Nasshan (2-2) have combined for nine of Bradley’s 14 starts on weekends this season. Bircher has the other five starts.
Nasshan pitched eight shutout innings against the Salukis last season, a game the Braves won 4-0 on May 8. He has a 6.20 ERA this season, giving up 25 hits in 20.1 innings, with 12 strikeouts.
Ziegler pitched one inning in relief of Nasshan in last season’s series, giving up one hit and one walk. He has a 7.08 ERA this season, giving up 16 earned runs on 28 hits in 20.1 innings.