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Pitching could use a shot in the arm

So close, yet so far away.

The baseball team is off to one of the worst starts in school history, and coach Eddie Cardieri believes the little problems have played a big part in its 5-9 record. Allowing 5.4 runs per game and committing 30 errors are definitely areas that need improvement.

Proof of success is usually in the numbers, and the Bulls are not piling up stats in a positive way. Cardieri felt his team would get off to a better start at the plate and sees that as a major reason for the slow start.

“If we would have come out at the start and hit like we thought we could hit, our record would be 9-5 instead of 5-9,” Cardieri said.

USF has lost three games this season by one run despite allowing six or more runs in seven games.

Cardieri feels the pitching staff has been keeping the Bulls in a lot of games, but the numbers don’t back up his feelings. The team’s earned run average is 3.78, and the staff has allowed 32 extra base hits.

Juniors Casey Hudspeth and Yuri Higgins have ERAs over 4.00, and sophomore Nick Manganaro is at 6.59. Even though the offense hasn’t been lighting up the diamond, the Bulls have scored at least four runs in nine of its 14 games this season.

USF starters have put the offense in three-run deficits or worse in eight of the season’s 14 games, and while Cardieri said at the beginning of the season that his pitching staff would give the Bulls a shot to win, the pitching has forced the team to play from behind.

The pitching staff also took a big blow with the preseason injury to Blake Tillett, the left-handed sophomore who was projected to pitch 80-plus innings this season. Tillett’s absence left a gaping hole on the staff that has yet to be filled.

“We have enough arms to absorb an injury of Blake’s magnitude,” Cardieri said. “The guys have gone out and pitched well and given us a chance to win games.”

A glaring weakness of the staff has been allowing big innings for opponents to take the game away from the Bulls.

In two losses to Jacksonville, Hudspeth allowed three home runs in an 11-6 loss and sophomore Daniel Thomas gave up four runs in the fifth inning of an 8-4 loss.

“Against Jacksonville, Hudspeth and Thomas had good stuff, but when you hang pitches to good hitters, they are going to hit it,” Cardieri said. “If we can avoid what we call crooked numbers and keep these teams from having the big innings, then we are going to have a chance.”

The offense is starting to come around, and Cardieri is encouraged with the progress he’s seeing at the plate. With consecutive games of 10-plus hits, Cardieri believes his hitters are catching up to his pitching staff.

The staff, however, needs to consistently limit opposing teams to four runs or less to give the Bulls a shot at the plate.

Cardieri wants his squad to turn the one-run losses into wins heading into conference play. The Bulls have four more non-conference opportunities this week.

“We are close,” Cardieri said.

It’s time to get closer.