Coming off back-to-back seasons of “less than anticipated”, Tony Vittorio and the Dayton Flyers are out to prove that some old theories still add up to wins in baseball.
When coach Tony Vittorio and the 2017 UD Flyer baseball team get off the bus Friday afternoon for their season opener against Furman, one could anticipate a little pre-emptive moment of come-to-Jesus time.
Translation: You can count on it that Vittorio is going to remind the collective group that a lot more is expected than the 19-36 mark post last year – coming off a 16-38 campaign the year before.
“We simply have to win some baseball games,” said Vittorio last week. “We have made it clear that everything else is secondary to getting back into a winning scenario.”
Welcome to the reality of college baseball, in other words, lest any of the 19 newcomers to the 2017 Flyer roster (including 13 freshmen) still harbor ideas of high school, rah, rah, and ‘just do your best’. Winning matters, because careers, jobs, and reputations are at stake. And come the start of every season it’s time to ‘retrain’ the thinking to include that reality.
It is a new look with Vittorio’s latest roster, his 18th since coming to UD in 2ooo. And on first impression he, along with assistants Ryme Romick, Ryan Cypret, and Terry Bell have settled in on one basic that has always paid immediate dividends in baseball. They expect to pitch better in 2017!
The Flyers return a pair of sophomores who had impressive freshman campaigns…out of necessity. Austin Cline (Ben Logan) went 4-4 with 55 strikeouts in 72 innings. And lefthander Tyler Henry (Middletown Madison) prove to be just as dependable out of the bullpen, posting a 4-1 mark, 3.07 earned run average, and 20 strikeouts in 32 innings.
“They both proved that they were willing and able to compete at this level,” says Vittorio. “Now we see how they take the next step.”
And the next step includes improving on a team ERA of 4.78, and 198 walks in 477 innings…compared to 310 strikeouts. If you do the math, that’s almost two walks for every three strikeouts – far too many free bases.
Junior starter Mason Kutruff will be given an opportunity to improve his 2-7 mark from last year, which included just 39 innings in 9 starts. Kutruff, too, suffered from the walks ‘bug’, issuing 29 bases on balls as compared to 20 strikeouts. The big lefthander from Martinsville, Indiana throws hard and has good tools on the mound; he just has to get those tools closer to home plate.
In addition, the Flyers recruited well in the off-season, signing a pair of promising arms out of the same high school in Zionsville, Indiana, freshmen Jordan Cox and R.J. Wagner. Both have made a favorable impression in their short time on campus.
But there’s plenty of opportunity for other arms to step up and tame opposing bats that hit at nearly a .280 clip against the Flyers in 2016. Juniors Danny Hentz, Masashi Sakamoto, and senior Kevin Piersol, all saw mound time in 2016 – Piersol leading the team with 4 saves in 21 appearances while compiling a 3.97 earned run average. Beyond those three there are unproven transfers and freshmen like Josh Nixon (Minster), who is listed as multiple position player.
Bottom line, this team has to pitch, and they have to pitch better than a year ago to complement a solid-enough defense that played at a .960 clip.
They’ve got to hit, as well, and gone are the names from last year’s roster that put up, statistically, the program’s top numbers – Nick Weybright (.284), Camron Silva (.270), and Aaron Huesman (.269).
But none of those guys hit home runs, or drove the ball with consistent authority. Senior Robbie Doring (Grafton, Wis.) did just that (.264 avg., 8 home runs and 36 rbis), and he returns to anchor a batting order that includes fellow senior Nick Ryan (Naperville, Il) at second base, and Connor Echols in right field. Ryan was the teams best hitter in the second half of the season (.259 for the year), overcoming a horrible start that saw him struggle at the .200 mark for the first half of the year. Echols (Sidney, Oh) made a solid impression filling in for injuries at third base, and has the athletic talent to switch positions this spring and help bolster an inexperienced outfield.
“You always depend on upperclassman leadership,” adds Vittorio. “And those two (Doring and Ryan) have to give us that.” Along with catcher Matt Poland (Dublin, Oh) and infielder Cale Dineen (Omaha, Ne), who started 23 games and hit .229 a year ago.
But the future of this club is decidedly in those 19 new faces and the talented sophomores like Cline and Henry who hope to make their mark early, often, and consistently in 2017.
“Keep your eye on first baseman Tate Hagen, too,” says Vittorio.
Hagen (6’2″, 185 lbs), a true freshman out of Tallahassee, Florida, made such a good impression at the plate in fall practice that even for his inexperience Vittorio believes that he can help bolster last year’s .241 batting mark.
“He made an offensive impression like no one has for a long time at that position,” says Vittorio. He hopes that can carry over again teams now wearing different colors.
Friday’s 4 pm start against Furman marks the start of the 2017 college baseball season, and without question there’s more questions and than answers prior to the weekend’s three-game series against a Paladin team that finished 29-30 last year…but hit, overall, at a .281 clip. Dayton’s young pitchers, and the hopes for an increase in 2017, are going to be tested right out of the chute.
But the Paladins also pitched at a .586 (era) clip, which leaves the impression that a revamped lineup will hopefully show some early promise at the plate.
Whatever it takes…that’s the message Vittorio will stand up and deliver before his teams gets off the bus at Latham Stadium. The word’s out. This is spring ‘retraining’. There’s nowhere to go but up.
The Flyers are playing to win…now!