Daily Egyptian

Opinion: Saluki baseball on a pitching roller coaster

Senior+Michael+Baird%2C+31%2C+of+Parker+Colo.+pitches+the+ball%2C+Friday%2C+April%2C+6%2C+2018%2C+during+the+Saluki%E2%80%99s+6-2+win+against+Valparaiso+at+Itchy+Jones+Stadium.+%28Mary+Newman+%7C+%40MaryNewmanDE%29
Senior Michael Baird, 31, of Parker Colo. pitches the ball, Friday, April, 6, 2018, during the Saluki’s 6-2 win against Valparaiso at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Mary Newman | @MaryNewmanDE)

Senior Michael Baird, 31, of Parker Colo. pitches the ball, Friday, April, 6, 2018, during the Saluki’s 6-2 win against Valparaiso at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Mary Newman | @MaryNewmanDE)

Mary Newman

Mary Newman

Senior Michael Baird, 31, of Parker Colo. pitches the ball, Friday, April, 6, 2018, during the Saluki’s 6-2 win against Valparaiso at Itchy Jones Stadium. (Mary Newman | @MaryNewmanDE)

By Dillon Gilliland, Sports Reporter

With the exciting and speedy offense the SIU baseball program brings to the table, one thing that has remained unpredictable is the pitching in the rotation and bullpen.

At the beginning of the season, Southern experimented with its weekend rotation in hopes of finding the most consistent tandem for three-game series.

The Salukis’ ace senior pitcher Michael Baird who made the initial Friday start of the season, has opened every weekend series.

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Baird got off to a rocky start as he pitched 4.2 innings against Jacksonville State, giving up four earned runs. The performance started his season off with a 7.71 ERA.

The Coloradan chipped away at his ERA with some key performances and hurled eight scoreless innings against Northern Illinois, dropping his ERA to 2.42.

So far Baird’s ERA has climbed back up to 3.39, however, his rocky outings that rose his average came against some of the top teams in the country such as Illinois.

Southern’s Saturday starter came to be senior pitcher Jamison Steege who instantly hit the ground running in his 2018 campaign.

After two outings Steege had an impressive 1.29 ERA, a statistic that can be credited to his eight shutout innings against North Florida.

Since then Steege has struggled as his ERA has climbed to 5.40 due to sub-par outings such as the five earned runs in 3.2 innings against Louisiana Monore and, most recently, the eight earned runs in 3.2 innings against Tennessee Tech.

Despite his struggles, the senior pitcher has shown he can still put up solid numbers as he tossed seven scoreless innings against UC Irvine, a team that currently sits at 24-14.

Sunday’s pitcher has been the biggest roller coaster for SIU as it began the year with junior pitcher Mason Hiser at the helm.

However, Hiser struggled from the start of the season and head coach Ken Henderson said that the junior’s throwing arm had been bothering him.

After the Salukis’ victory against Murray State Henderson said Hiser would miss the rest of the season due to Tommy John surgery.

“He is a pitcher that was good for us all preseason,” Henderson said after Southern’s loss to Louisiana Monroe. “I have all the confidence in the world that he will bounce back.”

All was not lost for SIU as it discovered its potential future ace in the form of sophomore pitcher Brad Harrison.

Harrison kicked off the season as Southern’s midweek pitcher.

However, he began to turn some heads after pitching a complete game shutout against Belmont, followed up with eight scoreless innings against SEMO.

Across the two games Harrison pieced together 24 strikeouts.

After getting the MVC Pitcher of the Week nod, he slowly transitioned his way into the weekend start in place of Hiser.

Harrison got his first taste of weekend pitching against Illinois where he went 7.2 innings, giving up five earned runs.

“I have to treat every game the same,” Harrison said after his weekend debut. “My stuff is good enough to go up against the big teams.”

The sophomore has remained fairly consistent since then, excluding his outing against Tennessee Tech where he gave up eight earned runs through 4.2 innings pitched.

With Harrison leaving the midweek games for the weekend, the next wonder was who would take over the midweek spot.

Sophomore pitcher Dylan Givens answered that question.

Givens opened up the season as a reliever where he averaged a 4.66 ERA through 9.2 innings. Since taking over the role of a starting pitcher, he has dropped his ERA to 3.10.

The reliever turned starter has been a prime example of a work in progress as he made his first start against SIUE, going three innings with one earned run.

Givens gradually began to go deeper into his starts the more he pitched and finally had his breakthrough game in his fourth start against Belmont.

Against the Bruin he threw seven scoreless innings, giving up only three hits while striking out two.

“[Pitching coach P.J. Finigan] prepares us well for our games,” Givens said after his start against Belmont. “He gets us in a consistent role and things are starting to fall in place.”

With that being said, Southern will lose two of its weekend starters to graduation following the season, leaving Harrison as the only guaranteed weekend starter in 2019.

If Givens continues to improve in his sophomore campaign, the idea of him taking a weekend spot could become a reality.

In the bullpen, SIU’s go-to closer, senior Ryan Netemeyer, has struggled in his senior year. Thus far he maintains a 6.60 ERA.

With Netemeyer in the midst a shaky season, the Salukis needed someone to step up and take charge in the bullpen.

Freshman reliever Trey McDaniel did just that.

McDaniel currently averages a 4.81 ERA through 24.1 innings pitched, however, his ERA is not a direct reflection of his work as he has managed to maneuver Southern out of multiple tight situations.

“He’s tough,” Henderson said. “He has got us through us some tough innings and he isn’t afraid to pitch in a tough situation.”

All in all the Saluki pitching has proven that when they are right, hitting against them is no simple task. However, when they are not clicking, the offense has to be there ready to score runs.

Sports reporter Dillon Gilliland can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @DillonGilliland.

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