As evidenced by Wichita State opposing 16 pitchers combined over its last two baseball games, stability and certainty within college pitching staffs is an early-March rarity.
The Shockers seem on their way to finding those traits, however, following impressive performances by sophomores A.J. Ladwig and Zach Beringer in wins over Oral Roberts and Nebraska-Omaha this week.
WSU’s cumulative ERA is 4.32, slightly higher than pitching coach Brent Kemnitz would prefer, but the Shockers have allowed three runs or fewer in four of their last six games and feature a depth among starters that not many teams can boast at this point in the season.
“We’ve always made it a point to try to develop quality pitching depth, and we certainly are capable this year,” Kemnitz said. “We have 13 guys on the pitching staff and I think they’re all capable of helping us. Some years there might be a guy who’s a year or two away or a redshirt guy or maybe even a guy where you wonder if this guy is ever going to figure it out. I don’t feel that way this year.”
Kemnitz’s confidence is in spite of uncertainties in WSU’s starting staff, where left-hander Kris Gardner was the only proven, established commodity entering the season. Ladwig was inconsistent as a freshman, Beringer didn’t pitch in 2012 due to injury and Cale Elam, who started WSU’s first game, was transitioning from the bullpen.
The learning curve for those pitchers hasn’t been quite as steep as expected. Elam is showing improvement as his outings turn from one- or two-inning affairs to starts in which he goes through an opposing lineup two or three times.
Beringer dominated Nebraska-Omaha in his first start in nearly two years, and Ladwig rebounded from two poor starts by taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning against Oral Roberts. Gardner appears on the path to being the Friday starter once Missouri Valley Conference series begin after he allowed one run in his only 2013 start.
The Shockers allowed 27 runs in getting swept by Pittsburgh at home in a season-opening three-game series, but have surrendered 22 runs in seven games since.
“That first weekend just blew my mind, I was in shock,” Kemnitz said. “I couldn’t believe it. It was hard to look at because we were bad. You can’t make any excuses for that, and it came out of nowhere. Hopefully that’s the mulligan — I wish you could use it as a mulligan and not have to have it on your record. But I like the way we have responded.”
WSU’s bullpen has been a strength despite Foster Vielock’s early struggles. Brandon Peterson appears to have settled in at closer, leaving the rest of the Shockers’ relievers to fill whatever role is needed at the time.
TJ McGreevy, Aaron LaBrie, and Albert Minnis have all made at least four appearances, but none are locked into a specific one-inning role and all can pitch multiple innings.
“There’s a lot of guys capable of throwing three or four innings, and if they’re still going good we’ll let them close it out,” Kemnitz said. “…The guy that’s kind of emerged, if you want to say, ‘Well, who’s your closer,’ is Brandon Peterson. But he’s not the only guy; we have a lot of other guys who can close out a game.”