Still no Barbosa, but bats are Bulls' larger problem
USF baseball, off to a 6-7 start, will likely go another two weeks without senior left-hander Andrew Barbosa, who has been shelved the past two weeks with soreness in his pitching arm.
Barbosa hopes to return for the start of Big East play in two weeks, at home against West Virginia on March 25-27. Even without one of the Big East's top pitchers from last season, USF has managed to lower its staff ERA by nearly two runs, from a team mark of 4.94 last season to a stellar 2.95 this year under first-year pitching coach Chuck Hernandez.
One surprise has been senior right-hander Kyle Eastham, who had made only one start in his first three seasons at USF but is 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA and a staff-high 18 strikeouts after earning the victory in Friday's win against Evansville. USF will throw senior Randy Fontanez (1-1, 2.75) and freshman Nick Gonzalez (1-1, 1.38) in today's doubleheader, with the first pitch set for 4 p.m. The Bulls' bullspen has been steady in the first month of the season, with closer Kevin Quackenbush earning a 1.23 ERA despite just one save in seven appearances; set-up man Zach Pietrzyk has a 2.25 and both relievers have opposing hitters .115 this season.
The pitching progress has been offset by continued struggles at the plate -- USF as a team is hitting .244, well down from .289 last season. Two hitters -- junior Todd Brazeal and freshman James Ramsay -- have 23 of the team's 51 RBIs, with Ramsay leading the team with 12, with team-high marks in home runs (2), doubles (5) and slugging percentage (.500). Shortstop Sam Mende's .340 average edges Brazeal's .327 for the team lead, but four regulars are hitting under .220.
Second baseman Luis Llerena, who had the team's top batting average last season at .328, is hitting just .184, and his competition at second base, Peter Brotons, is 0-for-11 at the plate. Daniel Rockhold, the team's top power hitter last season, is 3-for-19 on the season with one home run, limited by injury since the opening weekend.
The slow offense is hardly limited to USF, whose team batting average is still better than four other Big East teams -- Notre Dame is hitting just .242 and Louisville .226.