March 27, 2009

Baseball Looks to Snap 10-Game Skid

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The men’s baseball team, losers of 10 straight games, limps into Ivy League play to take on Brown and Yale this weekend. The teams are practically mirror images of each other — each struggling to find consistent pitching to match their potent bats. If these characteristics hold true, prepare for some slugfests.
“Brown’s a really good hitting team,” said junior outfielder Nate David. “They’ve got a few guys in their lineup, some older guys, who can swing it.”
Brown’s senior shortstop Matt Nuzzo and his double play partner sophomore Ryan Zrenda have done the heavy lifting thus far, racking up 50 total bases between them. The combo has also provided airtight defense up the middle for Brown’s bevy of ground ball pitchers.
Cornell head coach Bill Walkenbach will send junior southpaw Matt Hill and sophomore Jadd Schmeltzer to the mound to try to shut down the potent Bear attack. Hill, the staff ace, has logged a team-leading 22.2 innings and limited opponents to a .256 average. His inflated earned run average testifies to his difficulty preventing the long ball. Hill must pitch deep into the game in order to give rest to a tired bullpen, which has already shouldered a huge burden this season. Schmeltzer, making his second start, has pitched admirably in seven innings this year. The big righty boasts a 1.23 earned run average and eight strikeouts so far. [img_assist|nid=36327|title=Slugging ace|desc=Sophomore Jadd Schmeltzer, who has a .310 batting average this season, made a good impression in his first start.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
So far this season, Schmeltzer has made even more of an impact at the plate, where he is hitting .310 with a .524 slugging percentage. Opposing hurlers have taken notice and are pitching around him more frequently than they had in the past.
“I haven’t been getting many fastballs,” said Schmeltzer. “They’ve been trying to jam me or not throw me something over the plate where I can hit it. I’ve become a more selective hitter, really understanding the situations that I’m in. If no one’s on, I’m trying to get on base in any way possible.”
Schmeltzer’s approach has contributed to his sparkling .408 on-base percentage. Senior Scott Hardinger has also emerged as an offensive threat due to his patience at the plate. The shortstop has drawn a team-leading 10 walks, providing opportunities for run producers such as senior Nathan Ford. Ford, an All-Ivy League selection in 2008, is off to an impressive start at the plate and in the field, as he looks to duplicate last year’s campaign. If not for the emergence of freshman infielder Frank Hager, Ford would lead the team in every major offensive category. If Hager continues to produce at his current clip, he will provide much-needed protection for Ford, Schmeltzer and sophomore Mickey Brodsky.
Brodsky and junior Tony Bertucci will toe the rubber against Yale. Brodsky, who earned an All-Ivy League honorable mention as a designated hitter, has been remarkably efficient on the mound this year. The lefty has eight strikeouts and just one walk in 11 innings.
“My approach on the mound is just to go out there and challenge hitters,” said Brodsky. “I don’t want to give out any free passes. It’s just having that mentality that I want to attack hitters and get them out early in the count.”
Bertucci showed promise at the end of last season, but has struggled in limited action in 2009, posting a 7.71 ERA in seven innings pitched this season.
Both pitchers must be at their best against a loaded Yale lineup, which features six regulars hitting above .300. Freshman second baseman Zack Tobolowsky is slugging .684, due in large part, to four early-season home runs. Sophomore shortstop Gant Elmore is getting on base at a sensational .560 clip and sophomore Andy Megee rolls out an impressive .367/.385/.612 line at the hot corner.
While the Bulldogs’ lineup resembles Murderers’ Row, its pitching is the Ivy-League equivalent to that of the ’62 Mets. Yale hurlers have given up at least 10 runs in more than half of the team’s games and every starter has allowed more runs than innings pitched. The Bulldogs have shown their youth in the field as well, committing more than an error a game. Freshman submariner Eric Schultz has emerged as perhaps the lone bright spot on the Yale staff, collecting two saves to go along with a 1.12 earned run average in eight appearances.
If its starters provide quality innings and its hitters are selective at the plate, Cornell is fully capable of winning three or four games this weekend. Schmeltzer isn’t looking that far ahead.
“We’re going to take it one game at a time,” he said. “We had a rough weekend in California but that’s behind us and we’ve got to look forward to Brown and Yale this weekend.”